Fire in our Lives - Columbia Land Trust
A recent spot fire in Klickitat Canyon highlights how our relationship with fire is complex and ever-evolving.

By Lindsay Cornelius, Natural Area Manager for the Gorge and East Cascades

On June 26, we learned of a fire on one of the lands we steward along Klickitat Canyon. We learned that this was a naturally caused, low-intensity fire such as historically occurred throughout the landscape.

When I got to the fire I suggested to the fire boss he could prioritize the safety of their air attack and ground crews as well as the economy of suppression methods over keeping the footprint of the fire as small as possible. As the landowner, I told him, we actually view these low-intensity fires as a healthy and beneficial process so long as we can protect neighboring properties whose owners may not feel the same way. He looked at me like I had two heads. The “let it burn” (in a carefully stewarded way) concept is a complex, risk-laden approach hard for our system to embrace—but interest in managing fire is growing.

The community of people who emerge to respond to fire is inspiring.

I heard about the fire from a forester at SDS Lumber Company. Sherriff’s officer Harold Cole kept me updated on the status until I could get up the fire. Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) crews were quickly on site. Cascadia Rafting rafters who were camped just downstream with a group of students (and who heard the lightning strike) ferried ground crews across the canyon. This is a small example, but fire is one force that galvanizes communities. And with hotter, drier conditions predicted for an area already at risk of wildfire, our community will be tested like never before.

I’m always impressed by generosity and initiative of fire crews, industrial forest company personnel, ranchers, and rural landowners who pool resources, local knowledge, and expertise to protect human life and property, often at great risk and expense to themselves. It gives me hope that we’ll be able to harness that same energy to collaborate on prescribed fire and let-it-burn wildfire approaches in a way that increases the fire resilience of our communities and the ecological integrity of our fire-adapted forests.

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Note: As of the morning of June 27, WDNR had contained the fire to a single acre and were in “mop up” phase addressing the fire.