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News / Northwest

E. Oregon wildfires grow; Frenchglen put on alert

The Columbian
Published: July 11, 2012, 5:00pm

PORTLAND (AP) — Wildfires in Eastern Oregon are growing and the hamlet Frenchglen in Harney County has been put on notice that residents may be advised to leave.

Federal officials said Wednesday that the Long Draw fire east of Steens Mountain in Malheur County is now burning in an area of 710 square miles. That’s more than 455,000 acres. The fire is about 30 percent contained.

Mike Stearly, spokesman for the fire management team, said triple-digit temperatures and low humidity are helping the fire grow.

The fire threatens about 300 structures, but no homes. Stearly said about 350 firefighters are battling the blaze and more crews are on the way.

To the west of Steens Mountain, authorities have alerted residents of Frenchglen to prepare for an evacuation if conditions warrant. The nearby Miller Homestead fire has grown to an area of 82 square miles, or 53,000 acres. It’s just 10 percent contained. It was threatening livestock and more than a dozen structures, including three residences.

“For me, it’s not looking very good, to be honest with you,” rancher Gary Miller said. “We’re just trying to save our animals, or as many as we can.”

Miller spoke by telephone from his pickup, which he said was surrounded by smoke and flames. Miller said he could not estimate how many cattle he has lost. “I’ve seen a couple wildfires before — none that was this devastating.”

Frenchglen is about 60 miles south of Burns, Ore. It’s unincorporated, and the immediate community has a couple businesses and about half a dozen homes. It’s is best known as a jumping off spot for birdwatchers heading to the nearby wildlife refuge and campers going to Steens Mountain.

Twyla Hoffman and John Ross, who work at the Frenchglen Hotel, said the sky is smoky, but they were not particularly concerned that the fire west of town would force them to evacuate. Hoffman said the hotel has had a few cancellations, but 21 guests were there Wednesday afternoon.

The Miller Homestead Fire was sparked by lightning Sunday and has scorched sagebrush, juniper and grass. Firefighters have been challenged by the rocky terrain and erratic winds. Burnout operations have been limited by the presence of cattle.

“Everyone out here is making money on the fire, except for me,” Miller said. “My livelihood is going up in smoke.”

Miller’s wife, Michelle, said she has seen flames for three consecutive nights and the smoke is solid. She noted that the ranch is not only losing cattle, but the grass needed to feed them.

“But it can always be worse,” she said. “We’ve had a few life-threatening experiences with our children that kind of give us a different outlook. We can get through it; it will be OK. But it hurts.”