ARDENVOIR — Aside from the splash of sprinklers and passing fire trucks, the upper Entiat River Valley was silent Monday morning.
The area north of Ardenvoir has been under Level 3 evacuation (get out now) notices since Friday due to the 29,186-acre Cougar Creek Fire and most residents appear to have heeded the warning.
Sitting in a chair outside his garage on Mad River Road is Mark Anderson, a retired transportation specialist with a wispy gray beard hanging to his chest. He’s about a mile south of the fire and he’s chosen not to leave.
Anderson, 65, and his wife, Sue, moved into the home about seven years ago from the Mount Vernon area. The Mad River butts against his backyard where they have a small tomato garden. This is the first time they’ve experienced Level 3 evacuations.
“My wife’s kinda mad I stayed,” Anderson said Monday morning.
And though he doesn’t plan on leaving, he’s taken a few precautions.
“I moved everything. My boat, my old cars — I moved everything out,” Anderson said. Keeping him company is his dog, Oliver.
It’s the unpredictable hot spots that worry him — new fires sparked by embers drifting from a larger blaze — not the main body of the fire. Over the weekend, the fire jumped the Entiat River and spread east.
“What’s gonna kill us is a hotspot,” Anderson said. He picked a chunk of wood the size of a hockey puck lying on the ground. “A piece of wood this big can go three miles. Three miles.”
But that’s why he hasn’t left. Anderson wants to be able to attack any spotting.
“It don’t take much, you know,” Anderson said.
If fire conditions turn for the worst and he can’t drive out, he said he’d hop in the Mad River and float out.
“So I’ll just put my wetsuit on, life jacket and helmet and probably just swim out,” Anderson said.
Farther north where Entiat River Road intersects Steliko Canyon, an Australian took a moment to snack on a burrito.
Chris Troth, 38, is a division supervisor overseeing about 200 firefighters. More than 1,100 personnel are working the fire. He and about 15 other Australian firefighters are in the U.S. as part of a wildland fire partnership between the two countries. New Zealand and Canada also share resources.
Like the American West, Australia is wildfire prone.
“It’s very busy,” Troth said. Because Australian wildfire season generally runs opposite the American season, fire crews were available to help in the U.S. and Canada.
“At the end of the day, it’s good to come here and work with our U.S. counterparts and give all the help we can,” Troth said.
Troth works for Australian Capital Territory Parks and Conservation in Canberra. This is his 17th wildfire season.
They arrived in the U.S. Aug. 3 and are on a six-week assignment. After the six weeks are up they’ll head home to relax and then head back to the states.
Even farther north up the valley, a 20-person crew from John Day, Oregon, mopped up an ashened hillside above a firebreak near Potato Creek. The crews hacked away at the earth, exposing and cooling areas holding heat, and limbed trees to reduce ladder fuels.
“It’s a long, tedious process to mop-up,” said fire spokesman Nick Mickel.
Fire began to crest over the top of the hill Sunday, so crews dug a handline at the bottom and then burned the hillside, consuming fuels the fire otherwise would have burned through, Mickel said.
Justin May, a firefighter with Grayback Forestry out of John Day, was complimentary of Entiat Valley residents.
“A lot of these people around here are super fire savvy,” May said.
One particular estate near the fireline had sprinklers spraying a building. Others in the area have pipe fittings that are compatible with equipment used by firefighters.
“The homeowners are making it real easy to do our jobs,” May said.
Pete O’Cain: 664-7152