More than a dozen large fires continue to burn throughout the state and local firefighting crews are struggling to contain one fire located in a popular recreation area of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.
The Beachie Creek fire located in the Opal Creek Wilderness Area on Willamette National Forest is still at zero percent containment and held at 10 acres as of Wednesday morning. The size of the fire and containment has not changed since early last week. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Beachie Creek Fire Public Information Officer Erin Heep MacEwen said the fire is currently smoldering in the thick vegetation in the area. She said firefighting crews are having a difficult time reaching and containing the fire. When the fire was first detected on Aug 16, it took firefighters over four hours to hike approximately two miles to reach the fire.
“It’s very steep. It’s very rugged. There’s a lot of dead and down trees there that are stacked up in some cases up to six feet above ground level,” Heep MacEwen said. “Trails are minimal, so access is really difficult.”
She said because firefighters are struggling to reach the fire safely, it has been difficult to create containment lines. These are physical barriers, like a strip on the soil created with hand tools that leave no vegetation or an existing road, that are built around the fires. These lines allow firefighters to feel comfortable that if the fire activity would pick up back up, it would not cross the containment line.
As of now, firefighters have been taking indirect action to suppress the fire by clearing and chipping vegetation along roads that are accessible and could act as a barrier to prevent the fire from spreading.
Heep MacEwen said getting near the fire and delay in creating the containment lines also boils down to the safety of the firefighters.
“If something were to happen where weather conditions changed and fire activity picked up, it would just be really difficult for them to get out quickly,” she said.
Other fires in central Oregon include the Frog Fire, which is 8 miles south of Post and the White River Fire located near Wamic. Both fires are under 50% containment and have collectively burned over 6,300 acres so far.
There are two fires on the Warm Springs Reservation — the Lionshead fire and the P-515, which is 50% contained and has burned 4,609 acres so far.
The Green Ridge Fire located northwest of Sisters is currently 23% contained. Firefighting crews are facing some challenges on the north and east sides of the fire. Embers have ignited smaller fires outside the containment line on the north side and crew are working to clean up sections of vegetation on the east side as it could possibly reignite.
The Level 1 Evacuation notices for residences around the fire and the Deschutes National Forest Area Closure remain in place. FS Road 14 and associated campgrounds remain open.
All four fires were caused by lightning.
In Eastern Oregon, there are six large fires burning in the area. The largest is the Indian Creek Fire burning 9 miles east of Juntura. It’s currently 40% contained, burned 48,128 acres and has destroyed one residence. Containment lines are nearly complete around the perimeter of the fire and crews are working to reinforce the lines.
Fire investigators have determined the fire was human-caused.
Other fires in eastern Oregon include the Steet Mountain fire in Monument, the Baldy fire located in Ironside, the Laurel fire in Spray, the Meacham Complex fire located in La Grande and the Putnam Springs fire in Heppner.
All but the Meacham Complex fire were caused by lightning.
In Southern Oregon, the Crane fire is now 75% contained and it is estimated to be fully contained by the end of the month. Firefighters continue to make good progress on the fire which is about 10 miles southeast of Lakeview.
Last week, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued an air quality advisory for central, eastern, and southern Oregon. On Monday, the advisory was extended through Wednesday evening.
DEQ’s Laura Gleim said the air quality has improved in most parts of the state but she said there are some areas that are still seeing smoke. That smoke is coming up from fires burning in Northern California.
“For the most part, it’s staying pretty high up in the atmosphere. So, we might see haze, but it doesn’t affect air quality down at ground level where we’re breathing,” Gleim said.
She also said some fires in central Oregon are producing some smoke that’s moving towards eastern Oregon.
“All of our monitors there are reading moderate and weather patterns are suggesting that the smoke that’s blowing up from California will stay high at least for the next several days,” Gleim said.
Gleim said the agency will reassess the air quality advisory tomorrow and determine if it will be extended in certain parts of the state.