Astoria has more emergency preparedness to address than just the Cascadia earthquake/tsunami. A wildfire in the region could be devastating, particularly to the Bear Creek Watershed, source of Astoria’s drinking water.
No amount of careful timber management in the watershed can help, because the land surrounding the watershed has been clearcut, replanted and exists now as tightly clustered trees of uniform height. Firefighters have universally proclaimed that such stands burn faster and hotter than more mature stands in a wildfire.
The state’s largest and most destructive wildfires occurred in the Coast Range during unusually dry years between 1933 and 1945. The Tillamook Burn occurred on land considered at low risk of fire in a normal year. But counting on a “normal year” is now off the table as we move deeper into climate change, which could cause a series of dry years that turn the county into a tinderbox.
A fire originating in east county driven by several days of dry east wind, like we had this past summer, could easily sweep over the Bear Creek Watershed, leaving Astoria without drinking water. The same goes for a fire originating south of the watershed, driven by offshore winds.
Rather than pooh-poohing this scenario, city and county leaders would do well to begin negotiating with the private timber holders, who own most of the land around the watershed, about creating a buffer with thinning and fire breaks on the land surrounding Bear Creek.