While the Milli Fire has been fully contained, its impact on the landscape will linger for years, in the form of unstable trees, scorched soil and possible landslides.
“One of the greatest threats when you have a fire like this is what happens post-fire,” said Jean Nelson-Dean, spokeswoman for Deschutes National Forest.
To determine the extent of that damage, the U.S. Forest Service dispatched a Burned Area Emergency Response Team to make recommendations for how to manage the environment after the fire. Those recommendations, which were made public Thursday, include removing hazardous trees, installing drainage systems on downward-sloping roads and closing roads to four campsites in the area.
The Milli Fire began with a lightning strike on Aug. 11 and burned for more than six weeks to the west of Sisters before it was fully contained. The fire burned 24,079 acres, prompting evacuation advisories in Sisters and nearby communities, as well as air- quality warnings across the region. At its peak, about 700 firefighters and support officers were stationed in Sisters to battle the fire, according to The Bulletin’s archives. With the fire extinguished, the focus shifts to ensuring the burned area recovers as well as possible, Nelson-Dean said.
She added that the Forest Service dispatches burn response teams for every fire on its land. The team that examined the Milli Fire was deployed earlier this month, when the fire was about 60 percent contained.
The response team consisted of about a dozen resource specialists, including hydrologists, geologists and experts on recreation in the forest, according to Nelson-Dean.
The team conducts field surveys and other tests to determine how the post-fire landscape will affect plant and animal life, nearby communities and cultural resources in the burned area. Nelson-Dean said these can run the gamut, from landslides caused by unstable soil to invasive plants disrupting the ecosystem. From there, the resource team helps prevent potential problems and provides longer-term recommendations for the environment.
Nelson-Dean said the team didn’t find anything particularly out of the ordinary in the Milli Fire’s scar. The recommendations included monitoring for invasive weeds along Forest Service roads and Highway 242, and making sure the roads are equipped to handle dirt and debris displaced by storms. Trees that are a danger of falling near campsites will be removed, particularly near the Scott Pass and Lava Camp Lake trailheads.
The team also recommended installing drainage and removing snags from seven trails in the area, and using boulders to keep the public from accessing four campsites within Lava Camp Lake Campground, as well as the Black Crater trailhead.
While Nelson-Dean said the Forest Service has begun removing fire lines, among other recovery efforts, she said the response team requested $131,212 from the federal government for additional work.
“It’s a continuous cycle,” she said.
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