Jonathan Hogue on the excavator during the fire.

Jonathan Hogue on the excavator during the fire.

Quick response to wildfire on Shaw

A wildfire on Shaw was caught just in time before it became a major incident.

Orcas resident Craig Pechacek was getting ready to head back home on the ferry on Wednesday, May 29, when he and his Greenstone Excavation business partner Jonathan Hogue received a phone call about a fire. Hogue, who lives on Shaw, is a volunteer with the fire department.

The blaze had started on the beach below a piece of private property, moved its way up into tree roots in the 45-foot bank above and was quickly spreading to several Madrona trees and two large dead firs.

“We started driving to the firehouse, and on the way we passed the fire engines. So we turned around and went straight to the property,” said Pechacek. “We still had the excavator on the back of the truck.”

One tank was able to get down the driveway, and Shaw Fire Chief John Shannon and volunteer responders were working on getting the main flames out. There were still smoldering beach logs, and a thermal heat gun determined that root structures on the bank had heat 4 feet down.

Pechecek helped drive the large tanker down the narrow road, and it was able to resupply the smaller truck with more water to douse the roots.

“We brought in our excavator, chained it up to a few trees, hung it over the edge of the cliff and dug out the fir tree roots so the fire department could hose down the area,” Pechacek said. “Another 30 minutes to an hour and we would have had a major, major fire. They literally caught it just in time.”

The entire extinguishing process took around four hours. More islanders came by during that time, handing out water and lending assistance.

According to San Juan County, the 2018-19 burning season has come to a close. All permits issued this year and last fall are now expired. Commercial and residential burning is over for the season. Campfires remain allowed at this time and do not require permits. The county advises the public to be very careful with campfires and barbecues as it is very dry outside. Email firemarshal@sanjuanco.com for more information.

“There was no sign of campfire on the beach so they are speculating that an ember from a previous fire smoldered and with the right wind direction it incubated and started the fire. Or it could have been a cigarette flicked down the bank,” Pechacek said.