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.