Fires prompt campground alerts, Hwy. 26 reopens near Madras

Region sees 46 new wildfires in storms' wake

BEND, Ore. - (Update: Hwy. 26 reopens; campgrounds under Level 2, 1 alerts; Warm Springs fire at 2,000 acres; new 4,000-acre fire in Gilliam County declared conflagration)

Numerous lightning-sparked wildfires broke out across Central Oregon Friday, one prompting Level 2 pre-evacuation alerts for several campgrounds and another prompting closure of Highway 26 south of Madras for several hours.

Central Oregon Fire Management Service responded to 46 new fires Friday, several growing large in the hot, dry conditions.

Jefferson County Undersheriff Marc Heckathorn issued an alert around 7:30 p.m. Friday that the Spring Creek Fire near Haystack Reservoir prompted a Level 2 (Get Set) evacuation alert. Also under that Level 2 notice were homes at the end of Holly Lane and Boise Corrals.

Heckathorn said the fire was burning near the Perry South Campground and Street Creek; Central Oregon fire officials said it was at 15 acres at last report Friday night.

The Perry South and Monty campgrounds were placed under a Level 1 (Get Ready) evacuation notice, along with all homes and properties along the Metolius arm of Lake Billy Chinook near Street Creek between the two campground. The Three Rivers subdivision is not under any evacuation orders.

Around 8:30 p.m., Heckathorn said in an update that two fires in the area had “calmed down greatly over the last two hours,” but Haystack Reservoir Campground would remain at a Level 2 notice and others at a Level 1 through the night. 

“Both fires will be evaluated tomorrow, but we have made it through the worst part,”  Heckathorn said. 

Central Oregon firefighters scrambled to attack several large new wildfires in the wake of hundreds of lightning strikes across the region, including a 1,000-acre blaze on the Crooked River National Grassland that closed Highway 26 south of Madras.

ODOT's TripCheck page urged motorists to avoid the area of the Mile Post 6 Fire, though it said a detour was in place on Dover Lane. ODOT said around 7 p.m. that an eight-mile stretch of the highway between Madras and Prineville, mileposts 2-10, was closed. It reopened shortly before 9:30 p.m.

Fire officials said air tankers helped calm the fire behavior and crews expect to get a line around the fire by around midnight. The drag boat races scheduled Saturday at Haystack Reservoir are continuing as planned, officials said.

“Aerial resources have been bouncing to a lot of different incidents this afternoon, trying to assist firefighters on the ground,” Central Oregon Fire Management Service said in its Twitter feed.

Several new likely lightning-sparked fires following Thursday night's thunderstorms were being tackled Friday afternoon, one of the largest in the Grey Butte area on the Crooked River National Grassland, which grew to 50 acres amid a strong aerial retardant attack, officials said. 

That fire, Incident 996, was reported around 10:45 p.m. Thursday and was burning about 3/4 of a mile from Skull Hollow Campground, Forest Service spokeswoman Kassidy Kern said. Witnesses reported seeing several retardant drops as crews worked to get a handle on the blaze.

Meanwhile, another 50-acre fire, Incident 1022, had been fully lined by Friday evening near Quartz Mountain in the southeast corner of the Deschutes National Forest, Forest Service spokeswoman Kassidy Kern said.

Incident 1042, 1 1/2 miles south of the Monty Campground on the Deschutes National Forest near Lake Billy Chinook, was estimated at 15 acres Friday evening and burning actively.

Incident 1008 has burned about 4,000 acres on private land about five miles east of the John Day River. Central Oregon fire managers sent air resources and an engine to assist.

Incident 1018, about 250 acres, also was burning on private land in Gilliam County, about eight miles northwest of Fossil.

The Sorefoot Fire had burned about 800 acres on Prineville District BLM-managed land about five miles northeast of Antelope. Officials said smokejumpers and engines had stopped forward progression by Friday evening and were working to secure fire lines.

The Warm Springs Indian Reservation also dealt with a half-dozen likely lightning-sparked fires on Friday, the largest the 2,000-acre Tenino Fire in the southeast part of the reservation, north of Lake Billy Chinook.

The tribes had 55 personnel on the fire, burning on the edge of the pine forest in juniper rangeland, according to Bobby Brunoe, general manager of natural resources. More crews were being called up to help on Saturday.

No evacuations were called, as no neighborhoods or subdivisions were in immediate threat, as the fire burned in an area with only scattered homes. But  the fire was burning close to two homes and a regional structural protection task force was called in from other Central Oregon agencies.

One of the other fires burned about two acres and the other four a quarter-acre, Brunoe said.

COFMS sent tankers and an engine to a 4,000-acre fire, the Stubblefield Fire, burning on private land five miles east of the John Day River. Gov. Kate Brown invoked the state Conflagration Act so the Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office could send in outside resources.

The Office of State Fire Marshal’s Blue Incident Management Team, two structural task forces from Multnomah and Clackamas counties arrived late Friday evening.

"We are working to assist with the severe depletion of the local resources given the amount of fires and conditions," the state fire marshal's Friday night announcement said.

They aso said Gilliam County is now issuing a Level 2 evacuation notice, which means "Get Set," for all of the Air Base residents at Mt. View Drive.

Also, Incident 1018 was a roughly 250-acre fire burning on private land eight miles northwest of Fossil. Central Oregon fire mangers were also assisting Gilliam County on that blaze.

Several strong thunderstorms moving through Central Oregon dropped hail and heavy rain Thursday afternoon and evening and also peppered the region with several hundred lightning strikes, sparking dozens of chased down by crews.

The largest of the earlier Friday blazes was held to nine acres south of Prineville Reservoir and north of Highway 20, Kern said.

With more hot, dry weather ahead, Kern reminded residents and visitors to be extremely careful with fire and to check on campfire and other restrictions in the areas you're visiting.

A storm spotter west of Tumalo Reservoir reported a strong thunderstorm Thursday evening with nearly an inch of rain and nickel-sized hail. Hail fell over the Sisters and Camp Sherman areas as well.

Also, an air quality advisory for Central Oregon due to wildfire-smoky skies was allowed to expire at noon Friday. A National Weather Service forecaster said while smoke remains in the area, with more hazy skies, the pollution levels are not as severe as those still being seen in southwest Oregon.

The Oregon DEQ Air Quality Index showed the four Central Oregon monitoring stations at "moderate" levels early Friday afternoon.

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