SISTERS, Ore. - Most of the chipping operations on the east side of the 26,500-acre Pole Creek Fire southwest of Sisters have been completed, officials said Thursday.
They said equipment and personnel will be redeployed to areas along the northern fire perimeter, and that "fire suppression objectives on much of the fire are close to being met."
Most of Thursday's fire suppression work was focused along the western fire edge in the Three Sisters Wilderness.
Hand crews were hiking up to five miles into the wilderness for fire line construction operations. Helicopter shuttles will be utilized to transport crews working deep in the Wilderness. Crews will begin mop up operations using hose lays and pressurized water once the fire line is complete.
Three helicopters were available to cool down hot spots and assist with initial attack missions.
On Wednesday, only minimal smoke in dispersed areas was observed as the cooler temperature mitigated the fire behavior. The high temperature Wednesday was reported at only 49 degrees on the fire area. Thursday's temperature was expected to increase to a high of 57 degrees.
Smoke will continue to be produced from this fire and depending on the wind direction and speed, some communities and areas may be impacted with various amounts of smoke.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. The firefighting tab has risen to $16.1 million as of Thursday.
During the peak of the burning period, from around 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, the fire intensity picked up, as expected, and interior islands of unburned fuel (live and dead vegetation) began to burn.
More smoke than in previous days could be seen, in part because of the increase in wind speed and direction. Multiple small columns of smoke were observed but were away from the fire perimeter and did not create much concern., officials said
Fire managers said they will take advantage of this weather pattern and plan to continue with fire line construction and mop-up operations to meet containment objectives by Oct. 15.
"Residents are reminded that we are still in fire season and this fire is not contained," Wednesday's update said. "Due to an increase in hunters in the woods and the continued dry conditions, new fire starts are a possibility, and citizens should monitor available information sources and stay alert."
A lifted inversion Tuesday afternoon made the smoke coming from unburned areas of the fire zone more visible, prompting some worried calls. But officials said there was no cause for concern.
Of the total fire, 9,249 acres burned in the wilderness and 17,261 were outside the wilderness, but still within the Deschutes National Forest.
The firefighting force, which had fallen below 350, is back above 400 with Hotshots called up over the weekend, officials said.
The area around the fire remains closed to public access for public and firefighter safety. Included in the closure area are the Forest Road 16 (Three Creek Lake), Forest Road 15 (Pole Creek Road), and a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). A reroute is in place for that portion of the PCT that is closed. See Inciweb.org/incident/3244 for further details.
"There's still work to be done out here," fire management specialist Mark Rapp said Friday. "There's rehab of of the fire lines, and making sure it's on the road to recovery that was done from the initial suppression of the fire."
Crews are still mopping up hot spots where smoke columns reach high into the sky.
The intensity of the fire varied across the landscape. Black charred trees stand close to green, healthy ones throughout the forest.
"There's some areas that were very lightly touched by the fire, but other areas like you're looking at here are very intensely burned," Rapp said.
By looking at the black forest floor, you might think nothing can grow back, but fire officials said there is still organic growth within many of the tree stumps and it can bring nutrients back to their soil. By spring, life could start to grow once again.
More than 600 crew members are still fighting the fire. They've been through ups and downs, as one night of rain brought relief, but other days winds spread the flames.
The total price tag for the firefighting so far: $14.1 million, according to reports to the National Interagency Fire Center.
"Weather, topography, access, levels of fuel -- those are all elements that add to the complexity of a fire," said Pole Creek Fire PIO Bill Queen.
Because of the complexity of the fire, a Type 2 incident team started to fight the flames in the beginning. But now that's it's close to full containment, officials have downgraded to a Type 3 management team.
Crew members say the Sisters community has been extremely supportive.
"To know that the community that they're working in is so appreciative, it really helps to pick up the overall morale," said Queen. "And the community of Sisters has been really gracious and outpouring in that regards."
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Smoke will still be visible from the Sisters area over the next few weeks. Fire officials say they hope to reach full containment by October 15th.