MADRAS, Ore. - (Update: Comments from fire spokeswoman, area rancher; containment figure lowered)
Firefighters kept working Wednesday to build and bolster lines around two wildfires that merged into one six miles northeast of Madras and raced across more than 10,600 acres by Wednesday morning, but a containment estimate was reduced from 40 to 30 percent after an aerial inspection of the fire's status, officials said Wednesday night.
“We have a containment line around it at this point (utilizing) dozer lines and roads, and the firefighters are working vigilantly today to make sure it stays within the boundaries,” Stacy Lacey, a fire prevention specialist for the Ochoco National Forest, said Wednesday.
By midday Wednesday, the fire was reported to be 40 percent contained.
The Central Oregon Type 3 team assumed command of the incident Wednesday morning. Resources on the scene included several engines, two dozers, four contact crews and two hot shot crews, one water tender and miscellaneous overhead. Aerial resources were available as needed, and more resources and crews have been ordered. The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Jefferson County Rural Fire District were working together to contain the blaze.
“No structures were lost, no structures are threatened at this time. Looking very good on that end," Lacey said. But several ranchers are being affected.
“We in particular are trying to get all our cattle gathered up and moved somewhere to safety,” Darrell Ceciliani said. He said about 90 percent of his grazing land had burned and about 180 of his cattle were missing. He also said the current conditions, coupled with the upcoming eclipse, could be a perfect storm.
“We had a wet winter, there’s a lot of fuel, and if it holds true with the amount of people that are expected to be in Central Oregon, I think this is the beginning of a long fire season," he said.
Highway 97 remained open, but motorists were urged to use caution due to fire suppression vehicles and crews working in the area. If smoke affects visibility, motorists should reduce speed and turn on headlights.
Crews were working to construct fire line to contain and secure the perimeter. The fire was burning in a mix of grass and brush on private land and the Crooked River National Grassland.
Challenges Wednesday include high temperatures, afternoon wind and storms, power lines and steep terrain. The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning “abundant lightning and gusty outflow winds” that was in effect from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday.
As we reach the peak of fire season, fire officials want to remind the public that hot and dry weather conditions have created extreme fire conditions throughout Central Oregon. Fire restrictions are now in place on public lands, limiting campfires to only designated campgrounds. The public is asked to avoid driving or parking over dry grass. Fireworks and exploding targets are always illegal on public lands.
The Emerson fire began as two separate fires (incident #638) along Highway 97 north of Madras that eventually burned together. The fires were reported at 3:30 p.m. on July 25.
Information will also continue to be posted on the Central Oregon Fire Information Blog at http://centralorfireinfo.blogspot.com/ and you can follow Central Oregon wildfires on Twitter @CentralORFire.
Jefferson County sheriff's deputies said fire managers told them the Emerson Fire had been deemed "suspicious and human-caused."
The agency said in a Facebook post after talking with fire managers that “crews have a line around the fires that merged together and will be working on improving the lines today.”
“The fire burned all the way from Highway 97 to East Ashwood Road, near the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution,” the sheriff’s office added.
The pair of wildfires that ignited in grass and brush about six miles northeast of Madras near Highway 97 late Tuesday afternoon grew to about 8,000 acres by daybreak as crews worked to build lines and protect several homes from the flames.
Two separate fires roughly a half-mile apart were reported around 4 p.m. Tuesday, putting up thick smoke columns. Officials said the two blazes were being managed as one fire, labeled the Emerson Fire, according to the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Redmond.
Area residents reported the fire still burning very visibly and spreading quickly early Wednesday.
Officials said a Type 3 incident management team was taking command of the effort Wednesday morning.
One of the fires broke out on private land at the R2 Ranch and the other, larger fire was on the Crooked River National Grassland, just south of milepost 87 on Highway 97.
Resources on the fires Tuesday evening included three heavy air tankers, two single-engine air tankers, a Type 3 helicopter, eight engines, two bulldozers and other firefighting crews.A pair of brushfires broke out Tuesday afternoon near Highway 97 about seven miles north of Madras and quickly grew in size, racing across more than 2,000 acres and prompting a fierce effort to protect homes in the area.
The fire began two miles north of Highway 97 and Emerson Drive and were pushed south and east by strong afternoon wind amid hot temperatures in the 90s. The winds began dying down in the early evening, officials on scene told NewsChannel 21's Jessie Foster.
The fires prompted a call-out of Jefferson County Fire District No. 1 firefighters and a mutual-aid request to Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Redmond for BLM crews.
One area resident, Cody Nutter, said he raced home after receiving a call from his girlfriend that said they should evacuate. He helped firefighters protect his home.
"When I first got here, I grabbed my weed-eater and tried to determine which direction it was coming from the worst and fastest, and it was actually in both directions," Nutter said. "I got my blower to push it back on and hat my hose up there the whole time. For a moment or two, I was very much worried. When it crested that hill, it looked pretty fierce."
The cause of the fires was under investigation.
Sheriff Jim Adkins quoted fire officials as saying the fire had grown to over 2,000 acres by early evening and were being battled near Highway 97 and Emerson Drive, burning toward the south-southeast, and that crews were working to protect homes threatened in the area.
Amid the ground and air firefight, residents along Emerson Drive used garden hoses to protect their chickens.
Highway 97 was still open, but Adkins urged residents to stay clear of the area. The sheriff's office Facebook page shared photos of the firefighting effort, as some tall flames burned very close to the highway.
A fire district representative said winds were fanning the flames, and confirmed the mutual-aid request.
ODOT’s TripCheck page indicated the wildfire could affect traffic at milepost 83-84, but did not indicate a road closure.
It was not the only wildfire affecting travel in the region. A wildfire that broke out in Oakridge partially shut Highway 58 in that community for a time, but it was later reopened.
Several smaller fires have broken out in Redmond and elsewhere on the High Desert, tackled quickly amid continued hot temperatures, with a threat of thunderstorms and lightning moving in from the south.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for hazardous fire conditions over much of the area until 10 p.m. and a fire weather watch over an area south of Bend, and a fire weather watch for Wednesday afternoon through late Wednesday night for another threat of abundant lightning and winds.