The Cedar Creek Fire did a lot more than foul the air and force evacuations of resorts and campgrounds. It burned nearly half the shoreline of Waldo Lake, one of the cleanest bodies of water in the state.
So, what happens next? What actions can be taken to protect the lake and the 113,000 acres of scorched forests?
One way to describe what happens next on the Cedar Creek Fire is to look at the response to the Archie Creek Fire that burned a similar amount of acreage on the Umpqua National Forest two years ago.
“BAER is Burned Area Emergency Response,” said Joe Blanchard, Watershed Program Manager on the Umpqua National Forest. “It’s a forest service program that once the fires are contained, we have a team of specialists come in and look at the fire itself. How has that changed the landscape? What kinds of emergencies might we face in future years from flooding to invasive weeds coming in?”
We visit the Wright Creek Crossing that leads to a trailhead on the very popular North Umpqua trail. Here, at the advice of Burned Area Emergency Response Team scientists, a culvert is being replaced with a bridge.
“The culvert that was in place was undersized and at risk of being blown out by a flood or debris flow. What we did is we calculated the percent increase in flow and determined the culvert was in need of replacement,” Blanchard said. “When engineers looked at it, due to the size of the crossing here, they decided a bridge would be a better option.”
The Archie Creek Fire impacted the most popular recreation areas on the North Umpqua Ranger District, including trails, trailheads, campgrounds and raft launch sites, many of which remain closed.
“Typically, the fire comes close to 100% containment, the BAER team comes in. They operate for seven to 10 days. The work very quickly. Within two weeks, the assessment is done. Hopefully funding is starting to roll at that point, and we scramble to get the projects implemented as fast as possible. The goal is to get them in place before a damaging storm event.”
Shortly after the Archie Creek Fire, the Umpqua River was fouled with ash and sediment. Several downstream communities including Glide and Roseburg, which pull their drinking water from the river, were forced to upgrade filtration systems.
Here we are almost two years later from the start of the Archie Creek Fire and the Wright Creek Crossing bridge is just now being installed.
“We were set to do it last year but then we had another round of large fires on the North Umpqua. Over 100,000 acres burned including upriver from the Archie which impacted this area because of the fire closure. We couldn’t get contractors in here to do the work. So now we have a window, and we are getting it done,” Blanchard said.
Volunteers from the National Forest Foundation, local partners and non-profits are helping rebuild fire-damaged trails.
Blanchard says those who volunteer see firsthand how big the fire was, how much damage was caused and how long it can take to restore.
“I’m a trail runner and a rafter and I hear from the community I engage with. Folks are patient. They understand that this was a big fire and that it takes a while to recover from something like this.”
Near the Wright Creek Crossing, some of the forest is regenerating, starting with maple trees.
“Yes, big leaf maple. We’ve also got some blackberry we are going to need to treat. It’s a mix but in general the recovery has been pretty quick,” Blanchard said. “It’s been two years. You can see the re-sprouting and the vegetation coming back. In places, it’s great. In others we want to reseed, replant because we have lost the seed source in some of these stand-replacing fires.
Bottom line: Restoring a forest after a major fire is a complex, expensive and time-consuming process.