PRINEVILLE, Ore. - (Update: Correcting expected total acreage to 130)
A wildfire possibly sparked by recent lightning is being allowed to burn within roads and natural barriers by crews on the Ochoco National Forest northeast of Prineville, helping reintroduce fire into the area's ecosystem, officials said Friday.
The Central Oregon Fire Management Service and the Ochoco National Forest's Lookout Mountain Ranger District said they are managing the Wildcat Fire, located a mile west of Spears Meadows south of Forest Service Road 3350 and north of Highway 26 at milepost 42.
Forest spokeswoman Susan Garner said Forest Service air attack spotted the fire around 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
The official said the cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but noted there was lightning in the area over the past weekend.
Given the time of year and favorable weather conditions, Garner said crews are using existing roads and natural barriers for containment opportunities and using drip torches and burnout operations to secure established containment lines.
The fire is burning within an old harvest treatment area, Garner said in a news release, and "anticipated fire effects will be complementary to previous treatments."
"This strategy will allow fire to play its natural ecological role on the landscape while minimizing firefighter risk, promoting vegetation health and vigor in the fire area and reducing hazardous fuels," the release continued.
When containment efforts are completed early next week, the fire's final perimeter is expected to be about 130 acres.
This approach is in line with the Ochoco National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, the agency said.
“With the current weather conditions we are seeing right now and what we are anticipating in the near future, this is a good opportunity for us to begin reintroducing fire into our ecosystem,” said District Ranger Slater Turner.
Smoke may be visible in the area and along Highway 26. While no formal closure is in place, the public is being urged to avoid the fire area.