New Wildfire West of Sisters Held at 350 Acres
Blaze Slowed by Moving Into Burned Areas; New Storms Spark Fires
A new "holdover" fire that broke out Sunday afternoon north of Mount Washington and quickly grew to 350 acres held at that size Monday as the blaze was slowed by moving into areas burned in previous wildfires. Meanwhile, the governor ordered in outside help on Warm Springs Reservation fires and a new set of thunderstorms rolled through the High Desert Sunday, peppering the area with hundreds more lightning strikes.
Three fires in the High Cascades Complex have hit 28,000 acres and were threatening nearly 200 homes, so Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a conflagration so structure-protection firefighters from the Willamette Valley could be dispatched to the scene.
Firefighters will again be watching for new smoke plumes in the new week, after Sunday's storm put down another 740 lightning strikes in Central Oregon, according to the regional dispatch center in Prineville. A Red Flag Warning was in place until 11 p.m. Sunday. While the storms passed through the area, some areas received welcome, even heavy precipitation -- close to an inch in 15 minutes near Warm Springs, according to one weather spotter
There were over 2,400 lightning strikes recorded Sunday statewide, mainly in the central and northeastern portions of the state, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Concerns locally for the new week include a potential rise in winds that could challenge fire crews, though the forecast for cooler daytime temperatures should be of some help.
A new fire was spotted by Black Butte Lookout around 2:30 p.m. Sunday, burning north of Mt. Washington within the Mt. Washington Wilderness, 15 miles west of Sisters and about eight miles west of Black Butte Ranch. The smoke plume was visible over a wide area, including Santiam Pass travelers.
The Shadow Lake Fire had burned about 350 acres by sunset, but officials said crews stopped forward progress to the east, and the acreage figure held Monday morning.
The fire is primarily burning inside the Mt. Washington Wilderness, with 20 percent of the fire is burning outside of the wilderness boundary on the Sisters Ranger District. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
The fire burned into the 2006 George Washington fire scar, slowing its eastward movement. The fire is surrounded by old fire scars that are assisting in suppression efforts; however, officials said Monday there are still several pockets of unburned fuel between the fire scars and the fire itself. With the unburned fuel, there is potential for the fire to put out smoke for several days.
A Type III Incident Management Team (led by Travis Moyer) from Central Oregon assumed command of the fire Sunday at 3 p.m. As of Monday morning, it was staffed by three hand crews, seven engines, a bulldozer, two water tenders and miscellaneous overhead personnel.
Weather for Monday was predicted to be a little cooler, with a high of 72 and winds out of the northwest at 10-20 mph. With the increased wind, the focus of Monday?s work for firefighters is to continue to secure the eastern and northern portions of the fire.
There is an area closure pending, and all roads and trails in the fire area are marked at this time -- more details are due out later.
Meanwhile,, with many fires newly contained in the Sisters area and the potential for others to start, hunters heading out for bow season should use caution when heading out to their units. They should avoid camping in or hiking through areas with active fire, watch for increased fire traffic on forest roads and should watch for dangerous burned out stump-holes and snags in recently burned areas. Check in with local agencies before you head out to see if there are any additional fire restrictions or campground closures.
Clark said despite the small size, the Shadow Lake Fire was being staffed as a "priority fire" due to the history of significant wildfires in the area over the years, several of which have prompted evacuations or evacuation alerts at the Black Butte Ranch resort west of Sisters.
With that history -- and one fire years ago that burned two homes on the corner of BBR -- ranch residents and visitors were given notice of the fire Sunday and told it was roughly eight miles away and posed no danger to the resort at present, meaning a Level 1 alert.
Thanks to the numerous fires, a pall of thick smoke blew south Sunday into populous areas of the High Desert, shrouding the sun, mountains and horizons in a thick coat of gray, to the point where pollution reached "unhealthy" levels as monitored by the Oregon DEQ.
Bend reached the level of "unhealthy for sensitive groups" in wildfire smoke (particulates) Sunday morning, while Sisters had the same label for its overall air quality and Prineville reached the "moderate" level of pollution.
Later Sunday morning, Bend's wildfire air quality fell to "unhealthy" for all, while Prineville's rose to "unhealthy for sensitive groups" -- and Klamath Falls worsened, from "healthy" to "very unhealthy."
Conditions improved in the early afternoon, with Bend's reading back to "unhealthy for sensitive groups," the same as Prineville, and Klamath Falls just plain "unhealthy."
And by mid-afternoon, the Bend pollution level had dropped back to "moderate" but it remained "unhealthy for sensitive groups" in Prineville and "unhealthy" in Klamath Falls.
Click here to see the latest readings.
At the "unhealthy for sensitive groups" level, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality urges children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions to take measures to limit their outdoor activities.
More than 300 firefighters continue to work on the Hancock Fire Complex of several blazes burning in the Clarno area, in the north-central part of the state. One fire, in the Thirtymile Creek area, continues to have wind-driven fire activity, so the estimated acreage grew Sunday, to 45,000 acres, but officials said that also was due to a large burnout and more accurate mapping of the fires.
The fire remained only 50 percent contained, but full containment is estimated by midnight Tuesday morning, officials said on the fires' InciWeb Website update.
While two of the fires within the complex, northwest of Fossil, have been contained, another fire in the Thirtymile Creek area continued to have higher fire activity Sunday, one day after expanding west and northwest toward the John Day River. The west flank backed down into the Thirtymile Wilderness Study Area and moved north and south coming out of Thirtymile Canyon.
Sunday's storms dropped enough rain on the north part of the fire to slow its movement, but also created hazardous, slippery road conditions for firefighters. The southern part of the fire got little rainfall, and at least three new fires were detected near Clarno after the storms moved through, with more expected as the grassy fuels dry out Monday.
Firefighters made good progress over the weekend on Branch II of the fires, near Clarno, with four of those five fires now in patrol status. But Fire 641, about two miles east of the Washington Family Ranch, crew to more than 2,000 acres, spreading to the south and west.
The fires are burning on both sides of Highway 218 and on both sides of the John Day River. Firefighters remain challenged by steep slopes, inaccessible and rugged terrain, and light, flashy fuels that ignite and burn quickly.
The Central Oregon Type II Incident Management Team (led by Mark Rapp) is in command of the fire and is now providing information about this fire on a wildfire incident website at www.inciweb.org, including maps, photos and updates.
Firefighters also are working on three fires burning east of Twickenham and north of Mitchell. Incident 615 was holding as of late Sunday at 550 acres. The Dead Dog Fire (Incident 614) remained at 2,500 acres Sunday evening and was 40 percent contained, with full containment expected Thursday. About 40 firefighters with support personnel continue to work on this fire and are challenged by very limited access, high winds and steep slopes.
Incident 656 was at about 270 acres. About 65 firefighters are assigned to this incident and made good progress Sunday. All of the fires are burning in a mix of grass and shrub, and are terrain and wind driven.
The ORCA (Oregon and California Interagency) Incident Management Team, led by Brett Fillis,) took over the fires in the High Cascades Complex on the Warm Springs Reservation including the Powerline, West Hills and Razorback fires.
The Razorback fire was estimated Sunday at 20,239 acres and continues to burn on both sides of the Deschutes River. The Lower Deschutes River is not closed to rafting at this time; however, fire officials and the Jefferson County Sheriff Office did a precautionary evacuation of South Junction and Trout Creek Campgrounds Saturday night. The campgrounds remain closed to camping.
Rafters can access the river through Warm Springs and Trout Creek launch sites; however, fire officials want to warn boaters the fire is not contained and vehicles left in the launch areas may be at risk if the fire activity increases.
In addition, rafters should understand there is a 15-mile section between South Junction and Dant that has burned on both sides of the river. This has limited the campsites available for camping, and rafters should use caution when floating through and should not stop along this section or interfere with suppression operations. Rafters may be asked to temporarily hold up their float to allow helicopters to dip their buckets into the river.
Highway 197 was closed again at 5 p.m. Sunday south of Maupin, between mileposts 46-67 due to increased fire activity, but reopened later in the evening. If other closures occur, travelers can use a detour by driving through Warm Springs or toward Grass Valley on Highway 97 to take Highway 216 toward Maupin.
With many fires newly contained and the potential for others to start, hunters heading out for bow season were urged to use caution when heading out to their units. They should avoid camping in or hiking through areas with active fire, watch for increased fire traffic on forest and rangeland roads and should watch for dangerous burned out stump-holes and snags in recently burned areas. All hunter warming fires and campfires should be completely extinguished when not attended.
A new, less powerful string of thunderstorms moved through the High Desert Saturday evening, fortunately accompanied by less lightning and more rain -- but a growing number of large-acreage fires were causing problems, especially on or near the Warm Springs Indian Reservation and along the Lower Deschutes River.
Smoky skies across the High Desert Saturday came from several blazes burning on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, telling those not directly affected by a number of large lightning-sparked wildfires across the region that the woods and rangelands are burning, and hot, dry weather means more challenges to come.
The DEQ's Bend and Prineville wildfire-smoke monitoring stations reported "moderate" wildfire air quality Saturday, not the first time in recent days the smoke levels have risen, causing issues for people sensitive to smoke.
And for the third time in recent days, the National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning through 3 p.m. Sunday, warning of "abundant lightning" from thunderstorms in Central and Northeast Oregon.
They said scattered thunderstorms would develop in the late afternoon and evening, likely diminish overnight and develop again Sunday, accompanied by some rainfall, at least in places.
The busiest location, and source of most of the smoke, was the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, where more than 30 fires have broken out since Wednesday night?s lightning. But others have cropped up in several locations, among more than 200 other fires reported to the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center -- and there are dozens more of note elsewhere in the state.
Fewer new fires were reported in Central Oregon Friday, allowing fire crews to make progress on the blazes already reported and keep watch for any new ?sleeper? or holdover fires to emerge.
With all those blazes burning, the smoke blanketed the sky this morning, flowing down to Bend.
Atop Pilot Butte, where you can usually catch a clear glimpse of the mountains and see for miles, everything was smoked out and very hazy again Saturday.
Hikers and joggers who climb the butte on a daily basis say these conditions, combined with the hot weather, make their exercise a little ... interesting.
"I feel it in my throat, lungs and chest, and you can definitely taste it -- the smell is just overpowering," said one Bend couple.
"When I woke up this morning and saw the smoke coming in, decided to close my windows at home and come out early, but it feels like something is stuck in my throat," said another Bend jogger.
"My walking partner and I are talking so much and just trying to ignore all the smoke out her," said a walker.
The biggest fire -- make that fires -- in the state remained the Hancock Fire Complex, a group of blazes burning around Clarno that grew a bit Friday to 17,000 acres, according to COIDC.
Those fires were burning on both sides of Highway 218 and both sides of the John Day River. Most of Friday?s growth occurred on the north side of the blazes, and fire crews were being challenged by steep slopes, inaccessible and rugged terrain.
The Central Oregon Type II Incident Management Team (led by Mark Rapp) assumed command of the fire at Friday morning, as the firefighting force grew toward 300.
Resources include three Hotshot crews, three Type 2 20-person hand crews, one Type II helicopter, 18 engines, two bulldozers, four water tenders, 61 overhead personnel, and two camp crews.
The Hancock Fire Complex a typical rangeland fire that moves quickly through light grass and shrub, but calms down overnight when temperatures cool and relative humidity rises. Fire crews will focus on finding and suppressing hotspots in the cooler evening and early morning hours, when fire behavior is lower, and will continue to construct and hold containment lines throughout the day.
Firefighters are also working on a fire burning east of Twickenham. Incident 615 was reported Thursday and initially had minimal growth but grew to about 550 acres by Friday evening.
The fire is a terrain- and wind-driven fire and behavior increased during the afternoon higher temperatures. It's burning in a mix of grass and shrub, making short uphill runs on one side of a slope and backing slowly down the backside of slopes.
Firefighters are also continuing to work on several fires in the Ochoco National Forest east of Prineville.
Incident 606 in the Hamilton Creek area north of milepost 46 on Highway 26 was at 25 acres Friday afternoon and 70 percent contained. A helicopter provided water bucket drops to help with containment efforts.
In addition, crews from the Oregon Department of Forestry were working to contain a 10-acre fire that kicked up Friday afternoon. The fire was burning mostly on the ground in grass and needlecast, with occasional torching in Ponderosa pine trees. A helicopter and a state air tanker were assisting on the fire, for which there was no containment estimate.
As for two previously reported blazes, Incident 608, burning near Johnson Creek east of Prineville, did not grow Friday, and crews from the Oregon Department of Forestry spent the day holding and improving the containment line put in place last night. Firefighters also successfully stopped the progress of the Lyle Gap III fire burning northeast of Madras, and it was contained Friday evening at 78 acres.
Firefighters on the Warm Springs Reservation have been busy over the past several days responding to new wildfires as well.
Several fires are part of the newly named High Cascades Complex. The complex includes the following fires: Fire #127 Shitike Fire (1,000 acres) located west of the town of Warm Springs with structure protection in place from the Central Oregon Task Force #3; Fire #121 Seekseequa Fire (3,000 acres) burning on the Metolius Bench; and, Fire #133 Razorback Fire (1,700 acres) on the northeast side of the Reservation in the Mutton Mountain area. A Type II Team (ORCA) will assume command of this complex Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, to the east, Burns-area dispatchers are still seeing high fire activity, with nearly 40 fires in their region, mostly in the desert near Steens Mountain.
The largest group of fires, the DSL Complex, had scorched over 7,000 acres about 30 miles southeast of Crane. Two other fires were at about 1,500 acres.
Copyright 2012 KTVZ. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.