Oregon wildfires stretch state’s resources thin

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Fire crews from around the country have been dispatched to Oregon as 15 large fires burned across more than 565 square miles of timber, rangeland and grass Friday, stretching resources thin.

While crews were still available to attack new fires, no more local crews were available to bolster the 5,000 firefighting personnel battling existing blazes, said Carol Connolly, spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.

With the Northwest the nation’s top priority for firefighting resources, incident management teams were brought in from Montana, Nevada and Utah, and hotshot crews were dispatched from California, Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Illinois, Mississippi and Montana, Connolly said.

Mobilized by a state of emergency that Gov. John Kitzhaber declared this week, the Oregon National Guard has deployed four heavy helicopters to help meet the demand for air resources, but no firefighting crews, Connolly said. A helicopter from Grand Canyon National Park was stationed in Joseph for medical evacuations.

Red flag warnings for hot, dry and windy weather were in effect across much of the region, but a cold front was forecast to move through late Friday, bringing cooler, moister air for the weekend.

The bulk of the fires were touched off by lightning storms moving through the drought-parched region last weekend. Three new fires were reported Friday, two of them holdovers from the storms that finally grew enough to be noticed.

Oregon’s top priority was the Shaniko Butte Fire, which has burned across 40 square miles of grass, brush and juniper 12 miles north of Warm Springs. Authorities closed a popular section of the Deschutes River to rafting and other activities after the fire reached the river at the community of Dant on Thursday. The fire was 10 percent contained, with most of the burned area on the northeastern corner of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation.

At the Bridge 99 Fire in the Cascade Range, 20 miles north of Sisters, top-level evacuation advisories remained in effect for residents of 45 homes along the Metolious River, and residents of 835 homes around Lake Billy Chinook were advised to be ready to evacuate on short notice. Combined with the nearby Bear Butte 2 fire, the Bridge 99 Complex has burned 10 square miles of timber and was just 5 percent contained.

In the Ochoco Mountains, the Waterman Complex fires grew to more than 12 square miles 10 miles northeast of the community of Mitchell. U.S. Highway 26 remained closed at the Ochoco Summit, and top-level evacuation advisories remained for 10 homes along West Branch Road and 12 others in the Marks Creek area. The fires were 35 percent contained.

Near Sprague River in Klamath County, firefighters had the Moccasin Hill Fire 55 percent contained after it burned 4 square miles of private timber. The cause of that fire, which burned 17 residences Sunday in an off-the-grid subdivision, remained under investigation.

Firefighters reported making progress against the Buzzard Complex fires 45 miles northeast of Burns. Those fires have burned 425 square miles of rangeland since they were touched off by lighting Monday.

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