Fire Alert

Roundup of wildfires growing across the region

About 60 blazes tackled; fire shuts Hwy. 26 near Mitchell

Good news on White River Fire

BEND, Ore. - More firefighters were brought into Central Oregon Monday to help local crews battle about 60 blazes sparked by some of the 3,400 lightning strikes that raked the area during Sunday's thunderstorms.

A Warm Springs fire blew up to 10,000 acres, while three campgrounds and two forest roads were closed near an 80-acre place north of Camp Sherman. And Monday night, Hwy. 26 was shut near the Wheeler County town of Mitchell due to a fast-growing wildfire.

The rash of lightning strikes sparked 65 smoke reports Sunday and another 37 on Monday to the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville, said spokeswoman Jean Nelson-Dean.

And the picture doesn't get better later in the week. The National Weather Service has issued a new fire weather watch for Wednesday afternoon through Thursday evening for winds gusting to 30 mph and low humidity that, along with "critically dry fuels may result in rapid fire spread," forecasters warned.

A new fire in the Lower John Day Recreation Area grew Monday to 1,200 acres, eight miles southeast of Grass Valley in Gilliam County. Helicopter bucket drops helped, but winds kept the fire spreading Monday on Prineville BLM land in Sherman County.

In Wheeler County, ODOT closed Highway 26 about 13 miles west of Mitchell late Monday due to the growing Bailey Butte Fire, and Red Cross disaster volunteers were heading to the Mitchell School to receive evacuees and set up a shelter.

Sunday's largest new lightning-sparked fire in Central Oregon was burning at the extreme southern end, four miles northeast of Cabin Lake, near Forest Service Road 18, in northern Lake County, officials said.

The Cabin Lake Fire was estimated Monday afternoon at 66 acres, and containment lines were holding. Two more 20-person crews and two engines were joining the three engines and 10-person crew to firm up the lines, Nelson-Dean said.

Another new fire, the Bridge 99 Fire, was located nine miles north of Camp Sherman, off Forest Service Road 1490 and about a half-mile east of the Lower Bridge Campground.

It had grown to about 80 acres late Monday, burning in steep terrain in the Green Ridge area of the Sisters Ranger District, requiring crews to take an indirect approach to provide for firefighter safety, officials said.

Forest Service Road 1235 was closed, as well as Forest Service Road 14 at Pioneer ford Campground. The Lower Bridge, Allen Springs and Pioneer Ford campgrounds were closed Monday and the public was asked to stay out of the area if possible.

To the east, another new blaze, the Birch Creek Fire, had burned 40 acres of grass, brush and timber on private, state-protected land two miles northeast of Spanish Peak and eight miles southwest of Dayville in Grant County.

On the Ochoco National Forest, the Maury Mountains near Prineville had many small fires ignited by lightning, and the largest, two-acre Incident No. 307, was being mopped up.

The Lookout Mountain area also had a number of fires reported, and a 20-person crew was responding to the largest of them.

Incident No. 276, a half-acre fire on the west side of Mt. Bachelor, was in mop-up mode Monday.

The storms first began hitting the Cascades around 6:30 a.m. Sunday and by late morning, fires were reported around Mt. Bachelor and Broken Top.

A flurry of smoke and fire reports began coming in around 1 p.m. and things stayed active through the day, she said.

The lightning strikes moved north and east toward the Crooked River National Grassland, then continued on into the Grass Valley area. Around 3 p.m., lightning began hitting the Maury Mountains and Much of the Ochoco National Forest.

While many of the resulting fires were caught very small -- a single tree, for the most part -- "we're still actively responding to quite a few fires that could get bigger," Nelson-Dean said late Sunday.

Another fire near Sisters had a couple of engine crews on it for a time, while a new blaze in Cow Creek Canyon, nine miles southwest of Antelope, was "burning pretty actively" late in the day, and had two engines and a water tender on it. Also reported was a 40-acre fire on the Willamette National Forest, Nelson-Dean said.

The Warm Springs Indian Reservation also was hard hit, with 300 lightning strikes, 30-plus fires and one, the Shaniko Butte Fire, at 10,000 acres by Monday night.

On Sunday, hail also pelted areas of Bend, Sunriver and points south of the resort, where Carsen O'Neill said marble-sized hail hammered the neighborhood for about five minutes.

Meanwhile, more good progress was reported Monday on the lines of the region's largest fire, the 570-acre White River Fire, which broke out Saturday afternoon in a wild and scenic area 12 miles west of Tygh Valley and by Monday night was 65 percent contained, with a line completely around the blaze.

Officials said the firefighting force has topped 450, with crews extinguishing remaining hot spots inside the fire's perimeter. They spent Monday improving the lines and stringing hoses deeper into the burned area. Teams of fallers are working with crews to fell hazardous trees in the steep, rugged canyon.

Officials said they are using "light on the land" fire suppression tactics in the wild and scenic area, with the cost so far at over $750,000. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, and no structures are immediately threatened, though there are widely scattered homes, cabins and other structures around the fire's fringe.

The nearest community is Pine Grove, about 2 1/2 miles to the south.

Because the fire was burning on both sides of the river, the Mt. Hood National Forest asked kayakers to not use the Keeps Mill Campground launch site and others on the forest until river passage is safe.

A firefighter working in the canyon on the fire's northeast side suffered a heat-related illness Monday afternoon and was taken by helicopter to a hospital in The Dalles, responded quickly to treatment and was released, officials said.

Another fire, the Service Creek Fire, has burned about 375 acres in Wheeler County, two miles north of the junction of highways 207 and 19, mostly on BLM land, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. Two structures have burned and a home was threatened, officials said.

To the west, on the Willamette National Forest, firefighters were responding to over 65 smoke reports, more than half of those on the Detroit Ranger District and eight of those in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness Area, officials said Monday.

The largest in that wilderness area had burned about 75 acres on Bingham Ridge, about five miles east of Marion Forks, burning in insect-killed trees in a steep, forested area. A second wilderness fire had burned about 25 acres near Lizard Ridge. Smokejumpers and hotshot crews were working to contain those fires.

Detroit-area firefighters also battled a small blaze two miles southeast of Marion Forks, as well as four small fires near Breitenbush that visitors may see smoke from, officials said.

"Quick detection and response are essential to help keep these fires small, especially given the hot and dry weather forecasted for the week ahead," said Fire Staff Officer Sean Stafford. "This kicks off our fire season, and we're ready."

As of noon Monday, the forest labeled and managed the fires on the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness as the Bingham Complex, two larger blazes of 125 and 25 acres, and several small fires less than 1/4-acre in size.

On Saturday, a wildfire was reported shortly after noon east of Madras. The human-caused fire started on the sixth hole of a disc golf course and burned toward the east.

It threatened one home atop a hill that crews protected and also prompted closure for a time of Ashwood Road, the road to the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution, said Rick Allen, incident commander for Jefferson County Fire District No. 1.

Crews were back on scene Sunday morning to make sure no hot spots emerge, Allen added.

In Wasco County, a fire that burned about 60 acres east of Antelope began when a vehicle struck a power pole on state Hwy. 19, according to Reed.

Another small blaze early Saturday afternoon burned about a half-acre off state Hwy. 242 and Forest Service Road 15 just west of Sisters.

To the south, there were new lightning strikes west of Crescent on Saturday afternoon, and one small fire resulted when a bolt struck a tree, Reed said.

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