OAKRIDGE, Ore. - The Deception Complex of wildfires burning nearly 100 miles southwest of Bend is only expected to get bigger Thursday night and likely will send more smoke into Central Oregon.
The blaze, which more than doubled in size Wednesday night is now burning roughly 1,800 acres about three miles outside of Oakridge. More than 80 homeowners in the area are on standby for a level two evacuation, meaning they'll need to be ready to flea at moment's notice.
Some residents could only wait and watch as burned leaves and twigs rain onto their lawns.
"I've lived here some 40 years," one resident said. "It's the first time we've ever had this kind of stuff come along."
In Bend, smoke plumes blew in from the northeast Wednesday night, painting the skies gray and putting quite a fright in many with an ominous cloud of smoke shortly before sunset. The smoke made for hazy skies much of Thursday, obscuring distant mountains, until a wind shift cleared things up.
The Oregon DEQ said air quality in and around Klamath Falls deteriorated Wednesday night and in Bend Thursday morning and was at times unhealthy for sensitive groups, including those with asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Closer to the blaze, the air quality index reached the "unhealthy" range in Oakridge Wednesday for the first time this year and the fire also caused the Eugene/Springfield area to reach the "moderate" range, officials said.
"Your viewers in Bend will probably experience some smoke for some time until we can get a better handle on this fire," Public Information Officer Rick Acosta said Thursday.
Acosta said some of the fires in the complex were first ignited by lightning in early July and have been difficult to fight because of steep and rugged terrain.
Meanwhile, neighbors are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.
"We're spraying (the lawn) down," the Oakridge resident said. "If it comes, it will just go out instead of starting a fire for us."
The fire was about 53 percent contained before the blow-up Wednesday night. More than 1.000 firefighters and several tankers and helicopters are batting the blaze.
Here's the Thursday midday update on the fire - learn more at the InciWeb page at http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4093/
The Deception Complex grew by 886 acres on Wednesday as the fire in Deception Creek gained energy and momentum in the late afternoon, bringing the overall size of the complex to 1832 acres. The Deception Creek Mobile Home Park, the Middle Fork Ranger Station, and some residents along La Duke Road were temporarily evacuated, but are now at a Level 2 ("be ready to leave") Evacuation level. Residents along La Duke Road near Oakridge were advised that they were at a Level 2 Evacuation Level and remain so this morning.
As the fire in Deception Creek moved toward the ridgetop separating it from the homes located near La Duke Road, initial attack forces were moved into position along the road. Pieces of blackened falling debris that had been lifted by the fire into the smoke column were falling among the houses. Some of the falling debris retained heat and ignited a few small spot fires on the hillside above the homes, which were quickly extinguished by the firefighters. No structures were lost.
Heavy air tankers looking like jet airliners – an MD87and an RJ85 – along with a more standard P2V propeller-driven air tanker dropped 15,700 gallons of retardant on the expanding fire. The six heavy-lift helicopters were also able to work for part of the day, before being grounded by smoke. An additional Chinook helicopter and two water-scooping air tankers have also been ordered.
A structural protection group has been assigned to the La Duke Road area to further secure the nearby homes.
The smoke column from Deception Creek impacted the local area with dense smoke this morning, but also spread to Bend and Cottage Grove. The Waldo Lake recreation area is reported to be very smoky. Smoky conditions can be expected to continue for several days throughout the area.