With 14 large wildfires of 100 acres or more actively burning across Eastern and Central Oregon as of Saturday, forestry officials are asking the public to take extra precautions to avoid starting new fires.
Over the past week, lightning struck more than 3,000 times east of the Cascades, igniting many new blazes — and some may still be smoldering undetected.
“We are patrolling for holdover fires, small fires smoldering near the ground,” said Carol Connolly, a spokesperson for the Northwest Coordination Center, the agency that supports federal, state and local firefighting efforts. Connolly says those invisible fires can flare up, depending on the conditions.
“A combination of heat and wind push that fire to where we can see the smoke and it can be detected,” she said.
Connolly says any new human-caused fires will take critical staff resources away from the teams that are deployed across the state.
Among the major fires burning in central Oregon, the Green Ridge Fire is about 12 miles northeast of Sisters. It burned 3,706 acres and was uncontained as of Saturday afternoon. Level 1 “get ready” and Level 2 “get set” evacuation orders have been issued for a number of residences and campgrounds in the Camp Sherman and Metolius basin area and farther east.
In southeast Oregon, firefighters battling the Crane Fire, burning nearly 2,500 acres near Lakeview as of Saturday, were being helped and hindered by smoke blowing in from fires in California. The smoke helped limit fire activity but also made it harder for helicopters and planes to attack the Crane Fire.
Other large fires burning include the P515 and Lionshead burning near Warm Springs, the Indian Creek Fire outside the eastern Oregon community of Juntura, and the Meacham Complex Fires in the Umatilla National Forest near the Umatilla Reservation.
The Northwest region has deployed all seven of its Type-2 incident management teams to fires in Oregon and Washington, and will need to pull in fire managers from other regions to help coordinate the response to any new major blazes.
“Any new large fires that are requesting assistance or a team, we will have to go outside the geographical area for that,” said Connolly.
One out-of-state management team, from the Northern Rockies region, arrived Friday to take command of the Meacham Complex Fires.
Connolly says fire managers are taking several steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 among firefighting teams. She said fire camps are closed entry, firefighters are wearing face masks in camp, and all community briefings are being held virtually.