Just over 8 miles down Conconully Highway from Okanogan is a pond that wasn’t there 3 years ago. There is a small area to pull off on the west side of the road. If you stop here you will see a former field, which is now a pond filled with water and ducks.
In 2015, when the Limebelt Fire seemed to be finally under control in this area, this plot of land – a field at the time – continued to smolder. This was puzzling because no fire could be seen. The fire was supposedly put out and there was no grass or fuel left to burn in the area. Yet, small puffs of smoke continued to billow out of the ground.
It wasn’t until a group of fire fighters from New Zealand came to help that someone figured out what was happening. A peat bog – a type of wetland more commonly found in New Zealand than Okanogan County evidently – was located underneath the layer of top soil in this particular field. Peat is essentially decomposed plant and animal matter that can serve as a type of fuel.
Through the winter this layer of underground fuel continued to burn, releasing heat and smoke. Fire fighters dug holes and pumped water into the ground in efforts to stop the burn. Eventually the burning ceased, but it had caused the elevation of the field to drop by a few feet. The fire had burned up an entire layer of the ground, causing what was left to sink and become compacted. When the snow melted and spring came, a new pond had formed. The ground had sunk below the water table, so the ground was already too saturated to soak up the snow melt or rain. Water collected and the ducks soon made it their new home.
While it is enjoyable to see a new ecosystem form, this new pond does bring some concern for nearby homeowners. In the past, this field would soak up any excess water that ran off into the area. Now there is nowhere for this excess water to go, so the likelihood of flooding has increased. Flood mitigation is a possibility, but it would most likely only be a temporary solution for eventual flooding. For now, residents are enjoying the company of their new neighbors.