'Suspicious' Summer Lake wildfire now 50 percent contained

OSP Arson Unit invesetigating, seeks tips

Ana Fire grows to 6200 acres

SUMMER LAKE, Ore. - (Update: OSP Arson Unit called in; fire mapped at about 5,800 acres, 50 percent contained)

The Oregon State Police Arson Unit asked the public for information Tuesday after being advised the nearly 6,000-acre Ana Fire near Summer Lake "may have started under suspicious circumstances," officials said.

OSP and the Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal are working closely with area law enforcement and fire agencies in the investigation, the agency's announcement said.

Anyone with information was asked to contact the lead investigator, Detective Feland, at 541-776-6111.

Better news came from the fire lines Tuesday, as the fire moved to 50 percent containment, while more precise mapping reduced the size a bit, from 6,200 acres to 5,833 acres.

There was minimal fire growth Tuesday, officials said in a late-night update.

About 400 firefighters were working to suppress the human-caused wildfire. A group of wildland fire engines, water tenders, fire line supervisors and a helicopter were reassigned to two new wildfires in South-Central Oregon.

Fire crews and bulldozers made significant progress Tuesday building containment lines on Winter Rim between Forest Road 2901 and Highway 31 in an effort to stop the fire from progressing further south. Helicopters supported ground personnel with water drops to address areas of heat along the fire’s edge.

Steep, rocky terrain with limited access continues to challenge fire suppression efforts along the southern fire perimeter, so an alternate control line was built above Summer Lake as a precautionary measure.

Firefighters continued patrolling and reinforcing containment lines along the west, north and east areas of the fire. Unburned pockets of fuel with large downed logs continue burning well within the fire perimeter, producing smoke that may be seen from the local communities, but pose no threat to fire containment, officials advised.

Northwest Incident Management Team 12 under Incident Commander Richy Harrod is managing the wildfire in conjunction with local land management agencies. The incident command post is located at the North Lake School in Silver Lake.

Highway 31 is open with flaggers managing through traffic during fire operations. Motorists should use extra care, expect delays and use alternate routes if possible.

A reduced, Level 1 (Get Ready) evacuation notification remains in place for the area along Highway 31. The notice covers two miles north of Forest Road 2901 and extends two miles south of The Lodge at Summer Lake, as well as all of Ana Estates.

Freemont Point Lookout was not affected, however, the Fremont-Winema National Forest has closed the site through August 1 to allow unrestricted suppression and recovery traffic in the area. Reservation holders will be notified by and receive a refund.

"We're dealing with very dry and hot conditions and then sporadic and chaotic winds, so those two lined up, hot and dry with dry fuels has been a combination that has really made this fire take off," Fire Information Officer Sarah Saarloos of the South Central Oregon Fire Management Partnership said Monday.

A community meeting was held Tuesday evening at The Lodge at Summer Lake to update residents and business owners on the status of the fire, with representatives from fire management, land management agencies and law enforcement.

According to Saarloos, the homes and businesses are safer now than they were.

"Most of the folks have homes right along the highway, and that is where the fire has already gone through," she said Monday. "Now the area around them is fire-resistant, because there's nothing left to burn." 

For Tule Chiono, who owns the Summer Lake Store with her husband, the Ana Fire brings back memories of the Winter Fire in 2002.

"We have been through this kind of situation in 2002, it's a very similar experience," Chiono said Monday.

"It's frustrating, because we were just at a point that after 15 years, we were beginning to see green again," she said.

"My strongest message to people is to be very, very careful with anything incendiary, wherever you are, and be mindful of your surroundings," she added.

In the early afternoon Sunday, winds carried the fire east across Hwy. 31 into a priority area of sage grouse habitat, adding another layer of complexity to the effort.

Crews and resources continue to work the entire perimeter, as variable winds shift the direction of the fire. The fire is moving through a broad range of rugged, rocky terrain, from lodgepole timber to sagebrush desert.

A total of three structures were lost Saturday night: an outbuilding, a barn and a hunting cabin. No additional structures have been damaged and resources have been dedicated to structural protection in areas at risk.

No measurable precipitation has been recorded in the fire area for July. Conditions are expected to remain dry, with winds increasing in the afternoon, making any spark a potential wildfire. Members of the public are asked to be extremely careful with any type of heat source, from power tools to vehicles to more traditional sources of fire, such as matches. 

You can follow updates at the partnership's blog or at the SCOFMP Facebook page as well as its InciWeb page.

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