After a fairly calm few weeks on the wildfire front for Central Oregon, thousands of residents were alarmed to see a massive cloud of smoke blowing into the region late Wednesday -- but as it turns out, it was from the Deception Fire burning fiercely about 70 miles to the southwest on the Willamette National Forest.
The Deception Fire (aptly named for the fright it put into many on the High Desert) was very active Wednesday afternoon, prompting Level II (get set to leave fast) evacuation alerts in some populated areas of Westfir, a small town west of Oakridge, north of Highway 58.
The fire was actually named for Deception Creek and is part of a complex being battled in that area by over 1,000 firefighters.
Willamette National Forest Public Affairs Officer Jude McHugh said cooler evening temperatures were moderating fire behavior after crews successfully attacked spot fires in the Deception Creek Mobile Park, the compound of the Middle Fork Ranger District and on La Duke and Harbour roads.
As of Wednesday morning, the lightning-sparked fires, which were spotted Aug. 12th, had burned about 850 acres and were 53 percent contained.
Thursday's forecast called for slightly cooler temperatures and higher humidity but wasn't too different from Wednesday, in terms of expected fire behavior, McHugh said. Crews remain on the ready to suppress fires as necessary.
Wednesday evening, crews and equipment from the Oregon Department of Forestry, Lane County, the city of Oakridge and the Willamette forest responded to the Westfir situation, where residents of the Deception Creek Mobile Park and LaDuke/Harbour Roads remain on Level 2 evacuation notice.
You can get info from the forest's Twitter feed @willametteNF and the Deception Complex InciWeb page at http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4093/
Lisa Clark of the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville said cooler overnight temperatures could cause the smoke to settle in and "blanket" parts of the High Desert, so people with smoke sensitivities should close the windows if they need to.
Fire spokesman Mike Waite said he and others at the Middle Fork Ranger District compound in the Westfir area were briefly evacuated Wednesday during intense fire activity.
Waite says an air inversion Wednesday morning kept smoke from dissipating. Lane County Health & Human Services spokesman Jason Davis says smoke from the fires caused the air quality index to reach the red "unhealthy" range in Oakridge while the Eugene-Springfield area was reported in the "moderate" range.