2012 Barker Canyon–Leahy fires scorch state Trust grazing lands

Thousands of acres of grasslands leased for grazing were charred in the Barker Canyon Lehey fires. Photo: DNRThe 2012 Barker Canyon–Leahy Fires started with a lightning strike on September 8, 2012. The flames were swept by strong winds on September 10th  and 11th, and by the time firefighters gained control, the Barker ‘Canyon–Leahy’ Complex burned almost 91,200 acres of northeastern Douglas County.

This rapidly expanding fire burned in sagebrush, grasses and other dormant plants and the speed of the blaze challenged the firefighters trying to control it. Numerous engines and personnel were stationed near homes to control their perimeters. Despite this effort, three homes and 38 outbuildings were lost. The total cost of the fire was estimated at $1.9 million.

The state trust lands managed by the Department of Natural Resource (DNR) were affected more by the Leahy fire, which burned mostly west of Highway 17 and north of Highway 174, between Leahy Junction and Grand Coulee in the Del Rio area of Douglas County. About 9,650 acres of trust lands were burned by the fire—most of which were leased to local ranchers for grazing of their livestock. Effects of the fire have left many livestock producers searching for available pasture and hay to maintain their stock. An undetermined number of livestock were lost, and many contracted respiratory illnesses from inhaling the smoke.

DNR is working with lessees affected by the fire to rest the burned grazing lands for the 2013 season to allow them to recover. Producers will not have to pay rent for the charred acres during this deferral period, though they still will pay annual assessment fees.

Swath of Dopuglas County landscape scorched. Photo: DNR
Swath of Douglas County landscape scorched. Photo: DNR

DNR staff will work with those these lessees on a grazing program for those scorched lands that may be able to resume in early 2014 after the lands recover. Allowing the lands to rest for a grazing season will offer the grasses an entire growth cycle with no added stress from livestock grazing.

Fortunately, the fire moved so quickly that it did not burn the plants very long, which should allow for quicker regrowth. The Del Rio area also has had a cooler wet fall and early winter, which hopefully will store water within the soil profile to help plant regrowth.

Brett Tonne
Ephrata Unit Land Manager
Agriculture Program, Southeast Region