Tourists watch fire left to burn at Crater Lake
August 7, 2006
CRATER LAKE (AP) — Forest fire smoke wafts like steam over Crater Lake in the early morning and an occasional tree erupts in flame. But it’s not as ugly as it could be.
Left mostly alone yet slightly managed, the fire does what fires have always done. It burns debris and dead wood and replenishes nutrients to the soil.
Fire managers keep it away from Highway 62 and the Pacific Crest Trail, but that’s about it.
The 1,500- to 1,600-acre fire is considered the largest managed fire ever in Crater Lake National Park.
“If we do more and more of this, then we’ll have less catastrophic fires over time,” said Charlie Phenix, planning section chief for the Bybee fire.
Started by lightning between July 23 and Aug. 7, the Bybee fire has moved across Crater Lake’s southwest rim in a mosaic pattern.
Phenix said a 10- to 20-acre section will sometimes flare up, but for the most part its a ground fire.
Visitors can watch it from the west rim road south of Watchman Point and north of Lightning Springs Trailhead but out of sight of the lake.
There is a scenic overlook where the curious gather daily, next to fire managers who monitor the fire’s movement.
Morgan Miller, a Bybee fire information officer, said about 300 to 500 visitors stop each day to observe the fire.
She said most are shocked at first to learn the fire is left to burn, but change their minds when it is explained.
Initial fear dissipates, Miller said.
On most days the lake view is clear and tour boats putter around as usual. But sometimes smoke fills the six-mile wide caldera, shuts down tours and cuts visibility to 50 feet.
“Even with the smoke, we don’t apologize that the vistas aren’t as grand as they could be,” said Crater Lake Park Ranger Thomas McDonough.
On the ground, 60 or 70 firefighters watch the lines, preventing the fire from going too far.
A helicopter at the Grants Pass Fire Center remains on standby to dump water on it if it gets out of control, and it did recently to cool off a few hot spots near the Pacific Crest Trail.
Miller said it’s cheaper than fighting the fire head-on.
In 2004, she said, $1.7 million was spent in the park to suppress a 100-acre fire. The Bybee fire pales in comparison and has cost about $500,000 thus far.
It is named for nearby Bybee Creek.
Visitors seem to agree with how it is being handled.
“I think this is really intelligent, good management of the forest,” said Bob Hubbard of East Lansing, Mich., a first-time visitor.
Rick Manning of Clackamas, cruising through on his Harley-Davidson, had just seen the aftermath of Mount Hood’s fire and put it in perspective.
“Just nature doing its thing,” he said.
Copyright © 2006 Democrat-Herald