Progress reported on 2 Oregon wildfires

  • Sat Jul 14th, 2012 7:47pm
  • News

Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — Firefighters were making progress on two large wildfires near Oregon’s borders with Nevada and Idaho, officials said Saturday.

Homes threatened by the Miller Homestead fire have been protected and the threat to the community of Frenchglen and the residents near Harney Lake has decreased, officials said. The 250-square-mile fire was 25 percent contained.

Meanwhile, the 920-square-mile Long Draw fire — the state’s largest wildfire in more than a century — was 80 percent contained.

Winds have pushed that fire south and east through the parched grass and sagebrush. Firefighters worked Saturday to hold the flames to the west side of Owyhee Canyon.

“It’s hot and dry, and the canyon has its own breezes and winds, so that makes it tricky,” said Trish Hogervorst, spokeswoman for the fire management team.

Crews hoped to prevent the fire from jumping the Owyhee River. A spot fire broke out Friday night, but firefighters quickly controlled it.

Hogervorst said the roughly 400 firefighters battling the fire made more progress than expected Friday, thanks to less wind, cooler temperatures and higher humidity. The weather wasn’t quite as helpful Saturday, and there was a threat of a thunderstorm.

“If we can hold the line and have no major events by (Sunday), hopefully we’ll start feeling a little more confident,” she said.

The fire has killed cattle, burned range buildings and scorched the grass needed to feed animals.

“People say it’s just grass and ranchers and cattle that are ruined,” Rosemary Stoddart told the Oregonian newspaper. “But it’s ruined the whole habitat. There’s nothing left alive in the burned areas. Not even any bugs.”

Bob Skinner, a fifth-generation rancher from Jordan Valley, called it “the biggest expanse of solid black that I have ever seen. It’s pretty darned sad.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has asked the White House for assistance. In a letter to President Barack Obama, Wyden said Oregon does not have enough crews and equipment because firefighters had been dispatched to other wildfires in the West.

“While efforts are under way to bring crews back to Oregon, I want to make sure you are aware of the urgency of the situation and the need for national resources to fight this fire,” he wrote.

The Bonita Complex fire, Oregon’s only other major wildfire, has burned close to 20,000 acres in an area near Westfall, which is well north of the other major fires. It was 50 percent contained, but a major storm on a section of that blaze disrupted firefighting efforts.

Alexis West, a spokeswoman for the fire management team, said lightning knocked out radio communications, so crews were pulled from the fire until repairs are done. She said tornadoes were also seen, but there were no injuries.