More windy weather could bring back flames in Oregon’s smoldering burns

By Erin Ross (OPB)
Sept. 23, 2020 1:25 p.m.

This week’s rain is expected to continue in many of Oregon’s wildfire burns — including those surrounding southern Oregon’s Medford area, which might see its first rain in three months. But those rains will be preceded by high winds, which could cause fires to spot and spread in some areas. Treefall in burn scars is also a big concern, and with more rains, the threat of rockfall is ever-present.

Cool, wet weather is expected to stay through Saturday.


The fires continue to burn the hottest in clear-cut and recently replanted stands, where piles of logging slash, debris, and other “jackpot fuels” can ignite. Fire officials say that the open areas left behind by clear-cuts are drying out fast and are less protected from gusty winds. Oregon asks for emergency aid to clean up hazardous waste.

Members of Oregon’s congressional delegation are calling on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance cleaning up hazardous materials and solid waste left behind as the fires raged.

The mayors of Phoenix and Talent, where thousands of homes were destroyed, raised concerns about asbestos, heavy metals and other contaminants in ash and burned structures. State representative Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, has urged community members not to sift through the remnants of their homes without official support and guidance.

With almost 1 million acres and several towns burned, the delegation, led by Sen. Ron Wyden, says federal aid will be critically important as Oregon continues to rebuild. The FEMA assistance, if extended, would help inventory the damage and create staging areas for response, as well as removing and disposing of hazardous materials.

The state has a website providing additional guidance for safely returning to your home after a fire.

Individual fire updates

Archie Creek Fire: The Archie Creek Fire was more than 131,000 acres Tuesday and was 44% contained. Crews have made progress securing containment lines. The fire was burning in logged and recently replanted areas throughout the burn, and thatmilliois where the most active fire spreading is anticipated. Piles of logging slash, detritus and other “jackpot fuels” left behind by logging operations are at high-risk for burning. High winds Wednesday are expected to spread the fire, with a potential for spotting activity.


Beachie Creek Fire: Crews worked to secure firelines and create defensible space around properties Tuesday, in advance of uncertain weather on Wednesday. Rain was in the forecast, predicted to come after high winds, which could blow down burning trees and spread the fires further. Crews are also taking advantage of today’s good weather to detect hotspots within the burn zone, and put them out. The fire was more than 192,000 acres and 38% contained.

Echo Mountain Complex Fire: Although the Echo Mountain Complex Fire is considered 100% contained, for those impacted, life has yet to return to normal. A number of agencies, including FEMA, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and Lincoln County’s planning department are stationed at the Lincoln City Outlet Malls to connect those impacted by the fire with resources. The hours are Tuesday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday from 1 p.m to 8 p.m. and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Holiday Farm Fire: Residents within the Holiday Farm Fire burned area were allowed to return home over the weekend, with some caveats. Over 20 miles of Highway 126 remain closed as crews work to remove debris, blocking access to some communities. The fire continues to creep inwards on unburned “green islands” near some residential areas. Officials are asking residents not to call 911 if they see smoke or flames in those areas: air resources will be on the alert. The Holiday Farm Fire is currently estimated to be more than 173,000 acres and 22% contained.

Riverside Fire: The Riverside Fire has burned more than 138,000 acres and was 26% contained. As of Tuesday there were 689 personnel from over 27 states working on the fire. The fire was still growing along the east side, where rugged terrain continued to make fire suppression difficult. Although visible fires were out, in many burned areas, it still wasn’t safe to return. State agencies were working to clear pits of hot ash, cutting down dangerous fire-burned trees, and extinguishing smoldering ash piles.

Obenchain Fire: Although recent rains missed southern Oregon, the Obenchain fire was 70% contained Tuesday. But fire danger remains extremely high in the area, where no rain has fallen for three months. The fire was expected to burn more Tuesday night and through Wednesday. There is a slight chance that the burned area will receive rain for the first time on Friday.

How did we get here?

Can we log our way out of a fire season? Research indicates that the West’s wildfire seasons can’t be stopped with chainsaws. Nonetheless, the conversation has renewed debate over how Oregon forests should be managed.

It’s a debate that’s raged for decades, one with two competing world views. It pits those who make a living working forest lands against those who want to preserve it. The Timber Wars changed environmental activism forever, turned an owl into Oregon’s public enemy No. 1 and divided the state. The echoes of those divisions continue today.

OPB launched on Tuesday “Timber Wars,” a podcast that digs deep into these issues and more. Loggers and activists clashed deep in the canyons on the west side of Oregon’s Cascades. Today, many of those same forests and towns are burning. Read more about the Timber Wars and listen to the podcast.

About 900 acres of Oregon State Parks have burned

As fires wane, Oregonians are slowly returning to their homes and taking stock of the damage brought to their communities. Oregon agencies are also starting to size up the damage done to Oregon’s recreation sites.

The fires that started in Oregon shortly after labor day burned down canyons that are home to parks, campgrounds, lakes and trailheads beloved by many people across the state. It will be a while before officials are able to truly quantify the damage, but the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has begun to assess wildfire damage. So far, over 900 acres of state recreation sites have burned, mostly along Detroit Lake, in Collier Memorial State Park, and in the southeast corner of Silver Falls State Park.