Residents along Harney Lake in were urged to flee advancing flames as the Miller Homestead Fire doubled in size, but officials said Friday two families have chosen to stay. Meanwhile, farther east, the Long Draw Fire has topped a half-million acres, making it one of the largest in Oregon history.
More than 300 firefighters battling 100-degree heat, wind and low humidity found themselves overwhelmed late Thursday by the surging, now-110,000-acre Miller Homestead Fire -- which nearly doubled in size in a day -- and authorities issued evacuation alerts for both the previously spared hamlet of Frenchglen to the east and the south side of Harney Lake to the north.
"Direct, mobile attack has been ineffective due to rocky terrain and erratic wind," said a late Thursday night update on InciWeb. "Strong winds, high temperatures and low relative humidity have created difficulties with burnout operations," and protecting private property inside and near the fire perimeter was posing a challenge.
"The community of Frenchglen and the Harney Lake area contain numerous structures and are threatened by current fire activity," the update stated, putting the fire at just a half-mile west of Frenchglen. The fire managers noted "extreme fire behavior with significant runs, torching, spotting and flame lengths 6 to 8 feet."
Along with the big growth in the blaze, authorities said the fire was just 10 percent contained as of Friday, a rollback from 30 percent a day earlier, due to major fire growth to the north and northeast. If things improve -- and a hot, dry weekend with a threat of more thunderstorms is predicted -- the fire could be contained by next Wednesday, officials said.
As the fire pushed north late Thursday, the fire pushed north, residents on South Harney Lake near The Narrows, Oregon, were issued a Level 3 evacuation warning, encouraging them to evacuate their homes immediately at the time of notice.
Winds from the southwest also moved the fire down an east-facing slope toward Highway 205 South at about milepost 55 and to the north from there.
The Miller Homestead fire spotted across Highway 205 to the east in a few places and slowly crept around in wetlands on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
A fire management team spokeswoman says crews have brought three helicopters to help battle the blaze that began Sunday on grass and sagebrush.
Authorities have recommended evacuations for a handful of residences near Harney Lake, but say two families have chosen to stay.
Fire crews planned a flyover of the area on Friday to assess damage to cattle.
Residents on the south side of Harney Lake got the word late Thursday night from officials, urging them to evacuate "and retreat to the north immediately" due to the advancing flames.
What was first a Level 1 pre-evacuation alert at midday Thursday and later a Level 2 warning to be "ready to leave at a moment's notice" became a Level 3 evacuation notice for some of the 6-10 occupied properties around the lake, according to a 10 p.m. posting on InciWeb.
"Due to high winds, very active fire behavior, and various directions of spread, a Level 3 evacuation notice is in place for the south Harney Lake area," the alert said. "Residents are asked and encouraged to leave their residences and retreat to the north immediately."
A Level 1 “pre-evacuation notice” was replaced a short time later by an upgraded, Level 2 “evacuation advisory” for the roughly six to 10 residences near the small lake, located about 30 miles south of Burns.
Frenchglen remained under a Level 2 advisory to be ready to leave fast.
The American Red Cross was notified by Harney County Emergency Management late Thursday of the evacuation warnings and said residents were being told to evacuate to Burns, where the organization will assist with lodging and food. The Red Cross was set up at the Days Inn in Burns to assist evacuees.
BLM spokeswoman Tara Martinak said the fire “made a significant push to the north" in the afternoon, and firefighting efforts were challenged by its fast spread amid heavy fine fuels.
“Conditions indicate a good probability that hazards associated with the approaching fire will severely limit our ability to provide emergency service protection,” the advisory said. “Dangerous conditions exist that may threaten your residence or business.
“You must prepare to leave at a moment’s notice,” the residents were warned, adding that fire and police were working in the area to give residents more specific info about when to leave and by what route.
Firefighters earlier had brought two large southeast Oregon wildfires to 30 percent containment, and the threat to the hamlet of Frenchglen, about 60 miles south of Burns, near Steens Mountain, was reduced greatly overnight, officials said Thursday morning.
Crews were able to keep the fire from creeping closer to Frenchglen and from crossing Hwy 205 South to the east, but it was shut later Thursday.
Highway 205 south was being closed intermittently from Diamond Lane or Frenchglen to Rock Creek Lane as the fire burned close to the roadside. A pilot car at times assisted travelers in the area.
Page Springs Campground on Steens Mountain was closed Monday and remained closed to help alleviate congestion between the visiting public and firefighting personnel.
Officials also noted Thursday morning there was no immediate danger to travelers in the Steens Mountain area. Fish Lake, Jackman Park and South Steens campgrounds and private businesses such as the Frenchglen Hotel and the Steens Mountain Resort remained open and in full service -- though the late Thursday fire surge could change that picture.