Firefighters to use 'burnout' tactic in battling wildfires

CARLTON COMPLEX, Wash. -- Firefighters battling the Carlton Complex of fires in central Washington are preparing for a possible new tactic on the north side of the fire.

The process is called burnout.

"What we're trying to do is remove fuels from in front of the fire between the main fire and the place where we're going to try to stop it," said Fire Information Officer Pete Buist.

The tactic could be carried out in one area as early as Sunday, with officials saying another would take place on Monday, and likely in an area that's extremely steep and stubborn.

"It'll be slow and steady, so if part of that ridge is burnt it'll be lit from the top down and it'll burn down underneath those trees and it won't kill those trees. That's the goal," said Fire Information Officer Alan Hoffmeister.

Officials said if and when it happens, those living in and around Winthrop will likely see a lot more smoke. But that shouldn't necessarily be cause for alarm, officials said.

"We have a window of conditions that we can accept. And if we're within that window, we'll light a small test fire and watch it, see what happens. And if it's doing what we expect and what we can tolerate, then we'll begin a slow careful burnout operation," Hoffmeister said.

Delene Monetta's home sits just on the other side of the ridge where the burnout process will likely happen.

Monetta is a life-long resident of the Methow Valley.

In the 18 years she's lived on Spring Coulee Ranch just outside Winthrop, she said she's seen a large mudslide and a handful of fires from a distance.

The Carlton Complex fire is different, she said.

"The size of this fire is nothing like I've seen in any other kind of fire," Monetta said.

Knowing anything can happen, Monetta's family created a fire line around their property just in case conditions change.

"When they're using the road behind my house as a last line of defense that would be the worst case scenario for them. And this would be the worst case scenario for us," Monetta said.

Monetta said she isn't worried. She's been down this road before.

To her, it's just a natural part of being where she is.

"It's part of living in the Methow Valley is living amongst fires," Monetta said.

Officials said the burnout process will take place in stages, if and when it happens. Now is a good time to do it because of all the resources that are currently available, officials said.