Oregon fires: Hotter weather, more lightning ahead

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Updated: August 5, 2013, 11:27 AM

 

PORTLAND — rews in southwest Oregon contended with hotter, drier weather Monday as they tried to contain clusters of forest fires ignited by lightning in late July.

Among them are the Big Windy fires in the Rogue River Canyon, which grew steadily over the weekend in what a fire report called “steep and unforgiving terrain.”

Firefighters are trying to keep the flames south of the river, and they put out a few small fires Sunday on the north side, said Jeree Mills a spokeswoman at the federal fire center in Portland.

If the fire jumped the river it could threaten lodges and a cabin once owned by western novelist Zane Grey.

Smoke from the fire has put off visitors, taking a bite out of the recreation and travel economy of the Rogue region. The wild section of the Rogue has been closed to whitewater rafters

The Big Windy is among five major fire complexes burning on a total of about 84 square miles of steep forest, often inaccessible. Crews reported using rafts to get to parts of the Big Windy fire area.

The largest fire is in southern Douglas County, where residents of 60 homes have been advised to leave.

Crews reported they made progress digging fire lines and considered the Douglas Complex 16 percent contained. They expected temperatures rising to the high 80s to low 90s on Monday along with rising wind speeds, making the fire more vigorous. The fire area is estimated at 56 square miles, or about 36,000 acres.

Firefighters reported that the two major fires in one complex, named Whiskey, had merged and now total more than 11 square miles —more than 7,000 acres.

The crews said they couldn’t hold the fire at one line where they’d hoped to, and so they fell back to a forest road they expected to be able to use as a containment line.

The southwestern fires started overnight on July 25-26 in a barrage of hundreds of lightning strikes.

Lightning is expected to begin Tuesday evening in the southern part of the state and strike farther north as the week wears on, raising the chance for new fires. The forecasts say the storms could bring some moisture later in the week.

In all, about 5,500 personnel were at work in the fire camps on five southwestern fires. Over the weekend, crews from a smaller fire, named Brimstone, were deployed to other camps as it was brought near to containment.

“We are not short-handed yet, but we are juggling resources,” Mills said.

Lightning strikes that hammered Central Oregon last week gave rise to one major fire, on about a third of a square mile, or 245 acres, northwest of Sisters. Three campgrounds were closed, and three buildings are considered threatened. Nearly 400 people have been assigned to the Green Ridge fire.

One of the small fires last week led to the death of a fire crew member who was struck by a tree that he was cutting down. He was the first wilderness firefighter killed in the line of duty in Oregon this year, and the 28th nationally.