SISTERS, Ore. - (Update: Monday evening update; smoke, ash hit Sisters area, ground burnout helicopters)
Thick smoke from a large weekend burnout on the Milli Fire west of Sisters kept smoke swirling and ash falling in the Sisters area Monday - so much that another day of aerial ignitions by helicopter was grounded.
The blaze grew by 1,500 acres on Saturday and another 2,500 acres on Sunday, topping 18,000 acres -- but nearly all of that was from burnout operations aimed at providing a protective safety net, should the fire surge north or east in the hot, windy weather of coming days, officials said.
"We've been working toward this event where we can really grow this 'catcher's mitt,'" the term used for the shape of the burnout, according to fire spokesman Tim Phelps.
"They had a lot of really successful burnouts last night and overnight," Phelps said late Sunday afternoon. "It did creep a little on the west and southwest,” where the fire burns into the Three Sisters Wilderness.
Plans were in place Sunday to conduct some aerial burnout, using gel-filled "ping-pong balls" to ignite fire from the air, Phelps said. But the weather conditions had not allowed that operation to begin as of late Sunday afternoon -- it did happen later in the day.
"It has to be very strategically placed," Phelps said. "You put them on top of hills and ridges, so fire very slowly creeps down those ridges. If you have a fire going up a hill, it gains steam.
"We really want to achieve low-intensity burns with burnouts, so you don't damage the resources, but reducing the fire load in the event the fire on the western edge comes north and swings around to the east, it won't have as much fuel to consume."
To do the aerial burnouts "a number of things need to line up -- the relative humidity has to be correct, the winds and the smoke. If the humidity is up, fuels are not going to catch. We want it to be in a safe range for good management."
"We want to better strengthen the 'safety net,'" Phelps said. "We're going into a period of drier air and warmer temperatures. We did have some hot spots on the east side of the fire today, people might have seen helicopters with buckets, mopping up containment lines. The weather’s changing -- we're just trying to get ahead of it."
The amount of the fire contained by fire lines actually has grown, Phelps noted -- but since the fire has grown larger, the percentage of containment has stayed the same so far, at 32 percent.
Here's the Monday morning update from fire officials:
| Location of Origin: 9 miles west of Sisters, OR |
Start date: August 11, 2017, 2:42 pm
Size: Approximately 18,067 acres
Percent Contained: 32%
Resources Assigned: 651 personnel
August 28, 2017 Evening Update
There will be a public meeting this evening at 6 PM. at Sisters High School, 1700 McKinney Butte Rd, Sisters Oregon. Information regarding status of the fire, closures and evacuations will be provided.
The internal area on the Milli Fire continued to burn actively today, primarily in the burnout areas on the north side of the fire. This active burning produced smoke and ash fall throughout the Sisters communities. Residences in Black Butte Ranch and surrounding areas can expect ash fallout and heavy smoke conditions through the evening and into tomorrow.
Aerial ignitions did not occur today since the helicopter conducting this operation could not fly safely at low altitude in the heavy smoke. A specialized aircraft flying at higher altitude was able to fly above the smoke layer to monitor the fires activity. Infra-red technology within the aircraft was able to monitor the perimeter of the fire and find the areas producing heat.
One three-acre spot fire was found on the northwest corner of the fire on the north side of the lava bed today. Crews were able to stop progress on the spot and are currently monitoring the area to insure there are no other spot fires.
The west side of the fire continued to be active through the day. The hotter and drier weather continues to allow the fire to burn more actively than it has for the last few days.
The east side of the fire is no longer showing major heat on the infrared maps, and the area is in the beginning stages of rehab. Crews continue to remove fuels and use chippers to disperse the fuels that were cut and moved to create fire line to stop the fires spread. Dozer lines will have dirt and fuels moved back on to them to restore them to a more natural state. Rehab of the fire will continue in areas the fire is considered contained.
The fire closure area for the Milli Fire remains unchanged. All areas to the west of FR 16 will remain closed. There will be a continuing presence of firefighting personnel and equipment in the area, and it is requested that motorists use caution in this area.
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, in consultation with its partners on the Milli Fire, are continually evaluating the need for possible changes to evacuation notices. Evacuation questions should be directed to the Deschutes County Sheriff's office non-emergency number at 541-693-6911. Current evacuation levels: Level 2– Crossroads subdivision, Edgington Road, Remuda Road, Peterson Burn Road, Wildwing and Three Creeks Road residences returned to Level 2 (Be Set) Evacuation Notice on 8/23/17, allowing residents to return to their homes. Level 1 – The subdivision of Tollgate, all areas between OR 242 and HWY 20 and west of Cold Springs Cutoff (FS1018), which includes Black Butte Ranch.
| Road Closures: |
OR242 east of Cascade Crest to the junction of Forest Road 15. For further information see www.tripcheck.com
Forest Closures: For further information go to: https://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/deschutes/alerts-notices
Smoke monitoring information is available at: oregonsmoke.blogspot.com