Crews retreat as flames jump lines at S. Oregon fire



Updated: August 7, 2013, 12:15 PM


Central Wash. smoke related to wildfire cleanup

WENATCHEE (AP) — Fire officials say the abundance of smoke in central Washington is good news. The smoke is due to progress being made cleaning up the Colockum Tarps Fire that has burned more than 125 square miles south of Wenatchee.

Fire spokesman Peter Franzen says firefighters have been burning fuel inside the fire lines. He says conditions would be good again Wednesday to continue that work on the fire so local residents can expect lots more smoke.

Franzen says firefighters have about a mile of line left to build around the huge wildfire, with most of their work focused on the west side of the fire.

PORTLAND — Stormy weather has moved into Oregon, and authorities said it could make a bad fire season even worse, or it could dampen the flames.

More than 6,000 people are now fighting major fires in the state, including one that caused about 100 to retreat when flames raced from a creek bottom to jump roads and fire lines.

Lightning strikes touched off forest fires in the southwestern part of the state late last month, and 914 strikes were reported statewide overnight Tuesday and Wednesday. It was the beginning of some days of unsettled weather that could bring rainfall Thursday and later, forecasts said.

“We expect to keep getting this for the rest of the week,” said Jeree Mills, a spokeswoman at the federal fire center in Portland. “It can help, or it can cause major activity. It’s hard to tell.”

On the southern edge of a fire named Whiskey in Douglas County, fire burned vigorously out of Beaver Creek, and the crews in the area were told to retreat to safety zones. “Everyone left in an orderly fashion,” fire spokeswoman Alexis West said. She said nobody was hurt.

Fire commanders said they would reassess their strategy, but they planned to use bulldozers and aircraft to push the fire back within the containment lines that had been drawn.

West said it wasn’t clear exactly what whipped up the fire, but crews have found the local microclimates make for turbulent conditions between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

“It’s kind of our witching hour,” she said.

To the west at the Big Windy Fire where the driver of a water truck died in a crash Tuesday, fire crews reported they have kept flames from jumping the Rogue River to the north. The area had three separate fires until Tuesday, when they merged into one.

At a third southwest Oregon fire, the Douglas Complex, residents of about 60 homes who had been advised to evacuate were told they could return home.

In all, the four major fire areas in southwestern Oregon total nearly 99 square miles, or about 63,000 acres. A smaller fire in Central Oregon, also caused by lightning, is burning on about a square mile of ponderosa pine forest, but fire crews said it was proving increasingly difficult to control.