BEND, Ore. - A fire-weary week drew to a close Friday with little rest, watery eyes and lots of hard work ahead to contain numerous wildfires burning around the High Desert, including a group of four fires battled as a new complex around Big Summit Prairie on the Ochoco National Forest east of Prineville.
Residents around Central Oregon were dealing with plenty of thick smoke, and many feared it meant new fires closer to them -- but Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch said the smoke was from fires dozens if not more miles away, though a new complex of fires was being fought on the Ochoco National Forest.
Eyes were watering and throats were burning, especially in Madras, where the DEQ 24-hour air quality reading reached the "hazardous" level Friday night (though a bit better by Saturday morning) and "very unhealthy" in Prineville. Check the latest readings at http://www.deq.state.or.us/aqi/index.aspx
The evacuation notices issued earlier in the week grew as the Wheeler County Sheriff's Office issued a Level 3 evacuation notice - meaning to leave now -- for the West Branch area near the Bailey Butte Fire in the Waterman Complex. A Red Cross shelter was located at Mitchell City Hall, 104 S. Nelson St.
A red flag warning remained in place through 11 p.m. Friday due to those conditions, meaning more major growth likely on the fires, especially the ones racing across rangeland and open fields, the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville said in Friday's update.
Residents in Marks Creek east of Prineville, rafters along the Lower Deschutes River and visitors along the Metolius Arm of Lake Billy Chinook had something in common Thursday: Evacuation orders forced them to leave.
And the Bridge 99 Complex of two fires north of Camp Sherman grew by more than 2,900 acres Thursday, despite the efforts of 400-plus firefighters, and remained just 5 percent contained Friday.
There were about a half-dozen new fire starts reported Thursday to COIDC, making for a total of 110 starts since last Sunday's thunderstorms raked the region with 3,500 lightning strikes
A Level 3 evacuation order remained in place Friday for about 30 homes in the Marks Creek area of eastern Crook County due to the threat posed by the Bailey Butte Fire, which grew 5,625 acres and still was only 5 percent contained. That also has meant a large area closure west and south of the fire.
On Thursday morning, the fire prompted ODOT to move back the Hwy. 26 closure to just 16 miles east of Prineville. A 21-mile stretch is closed until further notice due to hazardous conditions.
Also on Thursday, the Bridge 99 Complex of two fires near Camp Sherman grew substantially, to over 6,300 acres, and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office issued three levels of widespread evacuation notices for nearby areas.
All private lands along the Metolius River were put under a Level 3 (go now) order, from Allen Springs Campground to Lake Billy Chinook.
The Three Rivers subdivision was under a Level 2 notice to be ready to leave at a moment's notice, while a lesser, Level 1 pre-evacuation alert to get ready was issued for the Rim Park, Forest Park and Air Park subdivisions, along with Cove Palisades State Park)
There are also numerous forest roads, campgrounds and trails closed in the area.
Fire managers on Thursday closed the Lower Deschutes due to the fires moving toward the river from both sides.
The Shaniko Butte Fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation -- 25,000 acres at last report, and putting up tall plume late Thursday -- burned down toward the Lower Deschutes River near the tiny hamlet of Dant, forcing closure of a stretch of the river during the height of rafting season.
For Marks Creek residents, about 6:30 a.m. Thursday came the word: "Current conditions present specific and immediate threat(s) to the life and safety of persons in this area," it read. "You are advised to evacuate immediately."
The area affected was along Hwy. 26E between the Mt. Bachelor Academy and Forest Service Road 2630.
"If you choose to ignore this advisement, you must understand that emergency services may not be available," the notice to residents warned. "Volunteers and other persons will not be allowed to enter the area to provide assistance."
Roadblocks and 24-hour patrols were being established in the area, Ryan said, and "residents will not be allowed to return until conditions are safe."
The American Red Cross was set up a shelter at Crook County High School for evacuees to check in and to provide information.
Many of the larger fires around Oregon have the latest details listed, including maps, on the state's InciWeb page,, http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/38/
Here's the COIDC and other fire officials' Friday update on fires burning around the region:
Ochoco Complex: The Ochoco Complex has burned about 600 acres and consists of five fires -- four on the Ochoco National Forest (Lava, Fox, Broadway and Antelope) and the Oscar Fire burning on the Prineville BLM in the North Fork Wilderness Study Area. All are believed to have been sparked by last Sunday's lightning.
Officials said Saturday morning the acreages were likely to grow as the fires were "very active" Friday.
The largest blaze, the Fox Fire, is burning in steep, rocky terrain six miles south of Big Summit Prairie and about three miles northwest of the North Fork Wilderness Study Area, near Forest Road 4230. It is currently estimated at 400 acres, and believed to have burned into the Oscar Canyon Fire.
The Lava Fire is located near the junction of Forest Road 22 and Forest Road 4210, near the northwest corner of Big Summit Prairie, between Round Mountain and Big Summit. It is currently estimated at 180 acres.
The Broadway Fire, south of Forest Road 2630 near Peterson Lava, was estimated at 10 acres. And the Antelope Fire, near Antelope Spring, three miles east of Forest Road 22 along Road 900, was estimated at 12 acres.
The Ochoco National Forest has ordered a Type 2 Incident Management Team which is expected to take command of fire operations Saturday.
Donnybrook Fire: Another newly added fire, the Donnybrook Fire (formerly fires 377 and 319) had burned 3,000 acres 11 miles southwest of Antelope. The fire was on private land protected by the Ash Butte Rural Fire Protection Association. The Oregon Department of Forestry is managing the fire as it moves toward ODF-protected lands.
Bridge 99 Complex: The Bridge 99 Complex, at 6,369 acres, consists of two fires -- the now-3,687-acre Bridge 99 Fire, nine miles north of Camp Sherman and 18 miles northwest of Sisters, and the 2,682-acre Bear Butte 2 Fire, beside Jefferson Creek and west of Park Creek Drainage in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness area.
Officials said the Bridge 99 Fire was pushed toward the northeast on Thursday and grew by 1,850 acres. The Bear Butte 2 Fire grew over 1,000 acres, also toward the north, and is 4 1/2 miles southeast of Mt. Jefferson.
More than 2,000 acres of the blaze was on Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Land, the rest in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness Area. The Bear Butte Fire is seven miles northwest of the Bridge 99 blaze.
A public meeting on the Bridge 99 Complex is planned Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Lake Chinook Village Store, 8241 SW Jordan Road near Culver.
The list of closed campgrounds grew to seven: The Lower Bridge, Pioneer Ford, Allen Springs, Canyon Creek, Monty, Perry South, and Candle Creek Campgrounds are closed.
Three helicopters were expected to aid in the effort Friday as the fire has stayed west of Forest Service Road 1190.
The Bridge 99 Fire is east of the Metolius River, on the western slopes of Green Ridge, and the Green Ridge fire lookout remains secure, officials said.
The fire has resulted in Level 3 evacuations from Allen Springs Campground to the Metolius Arm of Lake Billy Chinook, Level 2 for the Three Rivers subdivision and Level 1 in several other subdivisions and the Cove Palisades State Park.
The Green Ridge fire lookout remains secure, officials said. More closures may occur amid more fire activity and staffing.
There's also a closure order for the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, including the Jefferson Lake, Sugarpine Ridge, Shirley Lake and Cabot Lake trails, as well as a portion of the Pacific Crest trail north of the Shirley Lake Trail and south of the Willamette National Forest boundary in the Cathedral Rocks area.
Shaniko Butte: The biggest of several wildfires on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation grew to 27,000 acres by late Friday but also was 10 percent contained, about 15 miles north of Warm Springs.
More than 450 personnel were on the blaze, with a heavy and medium helicopter assisting as the blaze burned east to the Deschutes River at Dant. An historical mining outbuilding was lost, but no other structures, as crews try to prevent the fire from jumping the river.
The Oregon National Guard is providing four more helicopters (two Chinook, two Blackhawk) starting this weekend and will fly out of the Madras Airport.
Waterman Complex: Four fires have now burned 7,865 acres near Mitchell, Service Creek and Kimberly, but the 723 personnel have them 35 percent contained overall, officials said Friday morning. The personnel count grew to 760 late Friday, and while the other numbers didn't change, the Bailey Butte Fire moved from5 5 to 10 percent containment.
Along with the West Branch evacuation (see above), the Marks Creek area remains under a Level 3 evacuation, with a Red Cross shelter located at Crook County High School in Prineville.
To relieve travel woes from the days-long closure of U.S. Hwy. 26E between Prineville and Mitchell, heavy equipment was making improvements to Forest Service Road 22 starting Friday, to provide an alternate route, officials said.
The four fires include the Bailey Butte Fire, which has grown to 5,625 acres and was is now 10 percent contained, the 2,220-acre Toney Butte Fire, now 90 percent contained, the 20-acre Junction Springs Fire, now fully contained, and Incident 376, a quarter-fire, also 100 percent contained. Four rapellers were assigned to the small, latter fire located in the Mt. Pisgah area.
More on Waterman Complex update: A water tender rolled onto its side and off the road about 20 feet this morning en route to the east side of the Bailey Butte Fire, officials said. The driver was assessed by medics on scene and taken to the hospital for further evaluation.
The Wheeler County Sheriff's Office and Oregon State Police urged travelers in the vicinity of Highway 26 and Highway 19 to slow down and drive safely.
They expressed concern that limited visibility, increased traffic on secondary roads, and firefighting efforts/movements may affect highway safety in the Mitchell and Spray areas. Motorists using alternate routes are asked to slow down, drive alert and be watchful for others using the area roads.
An inversion lifted early Thursday, increasing fire behavior on the Bailey Butte blaze.
Crews on Friday completed burnout operations on the Bailey Butte fire between Wildwood and the Crystal Springs Organizational Camp.
More crews were assigned Friday to work the southern, most active part of the Bailey Butte fire, as the northern area showed no growth. In that area, crews were mopping up hot spots and 50 feet in from the fire perimeter.
Earlier in the week, the Ochoco National Forest issued a large area closure south of Walton Lake. Numerous forest roads were closed in the area, as well as six campgrounds (Walton Lake, Round Mountain, Crystal Springs, Wildwood, Ochoco Divide and Whistle).
Only people who live or own property in the closure area, their invitees and permitees with a legitimate need to access their allotments can be allowed into the closure area, escorted or approved by the incident management team, officials said.
There are also temporary flight restrictions in place over the blazes.
Highway 26 remained closed west of Mitchell due to very active fire behavior and hazardous falling trees -- now a 21-mile stretch of road starting 16 miles east of Prineville.
A new fire information phone number is in place, at 541-787-4321.
Pine Creek Complex: Over 500 firefighters based in Fossil are now battling the two blazes that have burned over 28,000 acres: the 12,850-acre Jack Knife Fire on the Lower John Day Recreation Area of Sherman County, eight miles SE of Grass Valley, and the 15,185-acre Pine Creek Fire, 11 miles south of Fossil in the Carrol Rim area.
Officials said heat and wind caused active fire behavior Thursday afternoon, and the Wheeler County Sheriff's Office issued Level 2 (be ready to leave at a moment's notice) evacuation orders for scattered homes in the Brush Creek area near Twickenham.
Three helicopters are helping in the Pine Creek fight, where the fire is zero percent contained, and two on Jack Knife which was 30 percent contained by Friday morning.
The John Day River remains open, officials said, but helicopters were working the fire, and people recreating on the river were warned to use caution as helicopters may be dipping water buckets in the river.
Black Rock Fire: BLM assumed control of the fire Thursday, and it had burned an estimated 14,000 acres three miles northwest of Clarno. It had been burning on unprotected, private lands but burned onto the public lands.
Oscar Canyon Fire: The Oscar Canyon Fire burned on Prineville BLM land in the North Fork Wilderness Study Area, 17 miles east of Post. Its size was increased from 70 to 315 acres earlier due to mapping.
Fire crews held the lines, helped by a helicopter, and it was 80 percent contained as of Friday. But officials said Fire No. 386 on the Ochoco National Forest was burning close to the blaze, and the two may affect each other in Friday's high fire activity.
Center Fire: Formerly the Bonneview Ranch Fire, has burned 1,600 acres on private and Prineville BLM land three miles northeast of Post, and was 25 percent contained as of Friday.
Good progress was reported on the fire Thursday, with winds lighter than expected The Post-Paulina Rural Fire Protection Association responded to assist on containment and property protection, along with federal resources, and they have been able to stop the fire's forward progression.
White River Fire: The 652-acre fire 12 miles west of Tygh Valley was declared fully contained Friday as more fire crews left, leaving behind those working on mop-up efforts. The estimated cost was $2 million, and its cause was under investigation.
Ward Canyon Fire: Formerly Incident 347, burning eight miles west of Antelope, estimated at 15,000 acres and being managed by South Sherman County
Incident 377: This fire, 12 miles southwest of Clarno, was estimated at 6,000 acres Friday, burning on private land protected by the Ash Butte Rural Fire Protection Association. The Oregon Department of Forestry will provide assistance on Friday. As with most fires, it grew fast, burning in grass, sagebrush and juniper.