Wildfires near Mitchell keep Hwy. 26 closed

Ranch homes, campground evacuated

MITCHELL, Ore. - A group of lightning-sparked wildfires north and west of Mitchell have burned about 3,000 acres, prompting some home and campsite evacuations and the continued closure Tuesday of U.S. Highway 26 about 16 miles west of that small Wheeler County town, officials said.

The Waterman Complex of fires include the Bailey Butte Fire, which has grown to 800 to 1,000 acres, burning in timber about 10 miles west of Mitchell.

Late Monday, it jumped the highway, forcing ODOT to close a six-mile stretch, and there was no word Tuesday when it might reopen, said Ochoco National Forest spokesman Patrick Lair.

Most of the fire was burning on private land protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry, crossing onto the national forest in a few places, Lair said, adding that ODF is managing the fight against the group of fires.

Highway 26, which links Prineville to John Day and points east, was closed just east of Ochoco Pass, 16 miles west of Mitchell, and Lair said there are no through routes on paved roads. The Wheeler County Sheriff's Office advised motorists to use Highway 207 as an alternate route.

"There is one sign on Hwy 26 on the east end of Prineville warning of the highway closure, but many people are driving all the way up only to turn around," as there's no through paved route from the summit, Lair said, urging motorists to use a map and plan ahead.

The Toney Butte Fire, estimated at 2,000-plus acres, was burning grass, brush, juniper, sage and timber about six miles southwest of the town of Spray.

Stage 2 evacuation notices were issued Monday night, urging residents to leave about a dozen ranch homes in the West Branch Road area near Mitchell. The Crystal Springs Campground on the Ochoco National Forest also was evacuated.

The Red Cross set up a center at Mitchell School late Monday for evacuees and others to check in.

Four crews, 20 engines and several bulldozers were assigned to battle the blazes, with an interagency incident management team also assigned.

Meanwhile, the Service Creek Fire, about 11 miles west of Spray, had burned 385 acres but was declared fully contained Tuesday morning. Two crews were assigned for mop-up on that blaze.

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