Wilderness poses unique challenges to firefighters

Pole Creek blaze now 20 percent contained

POSTED: 10:31 PM PDT September 18, 2012 
BEND, Ore. -

The Pole Creek fire continues to burn 5 miles southwest of Sisters. The blaze has now consumed 17,500 acres but by Tuesday night was 20  percent contained.

"We are fighting this fire very assertively in the wilderness and using a lot of the mechanized equipment available to us," Deschutes National Forest Supervisor John Allen said Tuesday

The fire has been burning in the Three Sisters Wilderness, protected by the Wilderness Act, established by Congress in 1964. The act designated land within the national forests free of any mechanical devices including bicycles.

The laws also apply to firefighting equipment. Officials with the Deschutes National Forest said Tuesday fire bosses can request to use chainsaws, water pumps and other equipment. They also must get permission to dip water out of lakes and to land aircraft within the wilderness.

"We try to reduce the impacts on the natural resource,” said Kirk Flannigan of the Sisters Ranger District. “We don't want to impact the water resource and we try to reduce the impacts the visitor is going to see out on the trails."

The Forest Service says they have not given permission to use bulldozers withing the wilderness.

"We have not sought approval of bulldozers in the wilderness that approval would have to come from my boss, the regional forester in Portland." said Allen