The 3-day-old, 22,300-acre Sunnyside Turnoff Fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation has slowed in spread, as containment reached 20 percent and some evacuees were allowed to return home. The fire reached the lower Deschutes River, prompting closure of a 39-mile stretch to rafters - but only for the day.
The blaze's new InciWeb page said the fire had a more precise infrared-flight mapping early Tuesday, at 22,320 acres, and was 20 percent contained.
Night operations made good progress prepping control lines and using burnouts to contain the fire on the east flank, they said. Tuesday's plan was to keep building and securing line and to try to keep the fire west of the Deschutes River -- but prepare for contingencies, if it crosses the river.
Residents have been allowed to return to the Kah-Nee-ta Resort and Charley Canyon areas, but they remain closed to the public, officials said. All other Warm Springs businesses remain open to visitors.
While the Charley Canyon area and the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort hamlet, where workers live, remained evacuated, fire spokesman Clay Penhollow said residents of the Wolfe Point area were allowed to return home.
Meanwhile, the Prineville BLM said Tuesday morning it was closing a nearly 30-mile stretch of the Lower Deschutes River as a precaution, as the fire had burned down to the river and has the potential to jump it, putting rafters in danger.
But the river segment was reopened at 6 p.m. Tuesday to rafting and camping, though officials warned visitors to be aware of and avoid spots where helicopters dip buckets in the river to fight the blaze.
Lisa Clark of the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville said rafters also should be careful hiking or camping in areas that recently burned, as there could be hot spots, root-holes, rolling rocks or other hazards.
If conditions change and the fire approaches the river, BLM could implement another emergency closure, Clark said.
The closure came at high season for rafters on the popular whitewater river.
Spreading smoke from the Warm Springs fire (and the one in northern Klamath County) also was starting to obscure the mountain views and put noticeable smoke in the air over much of the High Desert.
As of Tuesday evening, three DEQ Air Quality Index measurement stations at Bend, Madras and Prineville were reporting smoke in the "moderate" category.
'Aggressive firefighting' in early days commended
Monday night, the Oregon Interagency Incident Management Team No. 4 took over management of the fire.
In its first news release, officials said there were 329 firefighters on the blaze, located 3-5 miles north of Warm Springs, and Highway 3 remained closed to public travel south from Simnasho and north of Highway26 out of Warm Springs.
Incident Commander Brian Watts commended the initial and extended attack resources for their safe and hard work, with their "aggressive firefighting:" efforts successful in protecting Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and homes throughout the fires; path.
The fire lies south of the Mutton Mountains, east of Highway 26, northeast of Upper Dry Creek Road and north and west of the Deschutes River.
The fire has now raced across nearly 35 square miles, based on the more precise mapping. It's believed to be human-caused, but the specific cause remains under investigation.
The fire forced more evacuations and threatened Kah-Nee-Ta Resort Sunday night, but the resort was spared damage.
The Northwest Coordination Center said one old uninhabited homestead in Charley Canyon has burned. It was used as an outbuilding.
The fire's fast spread Sunday forced mandatory evacuations of the Charley Canyon and Wolfe Point subdivisions, about 40 homes and 120 people.
Meanwhile, the roughly 200 people who were evacuated from other areas Saturday were allowed to return to their homes Sunday.
Kah-Nee-Ta also offered thanks on its Facebook page to the firefighters who protected the resort property in another sweltering day of 102-degree temperatures, also noting there have been no injuries or structures lost.
The Indian Head Casino, closed due to a power outage across the reservation early Sunday, reopened Sunday night, according to its Facebook announcement.
The Sunnyside Turnoff Fire, which started Saturday morning, raced across 10,000 acres of rangeland Saturday, forcing evacuations and road closures. It kicked up again in Sunday afternoon's heat.
Late Sunday afternoon, the fire escaped the line on the north side. Shortly before 4:30 p.m., a Level 3 mandatory evacuation notice was issued for about 40 homes and 120 people in the Charley Canyon and Wolfe Point subdivisions, Wilson.
It was a second day of evacuations and road closures as the return of afternoon heat and wind pushed the flames across the Warm Springs River to the north and also threatened Kah-Nee-Ta Resort, which was evacuated overnight.
One of the structural protection task forces, made up of firefighters called in from over a wide area, was in place at the resort village, threatened by approaching flames on the west and east flanks, said Assistant Fire Management Officer William Wilson.