Multiple fires in the region have prompted allocation of resources from throughout the country

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF KIM WOODWARD - Photo taken of Bailey Butte Fire of the Waterman Complex on Monday evening last week.

On Friday evening, a thick blanket of smoke covered Prineville, reducing visibility to less than a mile and rendering air quality to hazardous levels.

The community has been seemingly surrounded by active lightning-caused fires throughout the past few days. The Waterman Complex, near Mitchell, and the Post and Paulina area Ochoco Complex burned to the east. Westward, the Bridge 99 Complex raged north of Sisters, and the Shaniko Fire and Logging Unit Fire burned land on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

By Sunday evening, the smoke had blown out of Prineville, but that didn’t mean that the fires had been extinguished.

On Monday morning, the Waterman Complex was 60 percent contained, but was still burning 11,334 acres near Mitchell. The Bailey Butte Fire was still 9,085 acres and was 50 percent contained. Meanwhile the other two fires comprising the Waterman Complex, the Toney Butte Fire (2,229 acres) and Junction Spring Fire (20 acres), were still burning but 100 percent contained.

A shelter was established for displaced Mitchell area residents at Crook County High School over the weekend, however, according to Ochoco National Forest Public Affairs Specialist Patrick Lair, Facebook has been paying for lodging for evacuees in local hotels.

The five fires comprising the Ochoco Complex ballooned to 6,306 acres, with the Oscar Canyon and Fox fires merging between Sunday and Monday. The combined blaze, east of Post, was burning 6,306 acres as of Monday morning, while the Antelope Springs Fire had reached 900 acres, the Broadway Fire near Peterson Lava 53 acres, and the Lava Fire near the northwest corner of Big Summit Prairie 191 acres.

By Friday, the U.S. Highway 26 closure, which began as a four- to five-mile restriction, was expanded to a more than 20-mile stretch beginning 15 miles east of Prineville to 10 miles west of Mitchell. The closure is to ensure driver safety from the Waterman Complex fires as well as the downed trees on the roadway. The highway remained closed Monday morning.

Ochoco National Forest also issued closures that public affairs specialist Patrick Lair said encompass all national forest system lands from U.S. Highway 26 on the west to Forest Road 12 on the east. The closures were issued to provide for public and firefighter safety, Lair added, and includes all campgrounds, trailheads, forest roads and developed facilities.

To combat the blazes, Great Basin Incident Management Team 6 assumed command of the Ochoco Complex fires on Saturday evening, setting up an incident command post at Crook County Middle School.

Then, on Sunday, the Central Oregon Fire District of the Oregon, the Confederate Tribes of Warm Springs, and the Central Oregon Fire Management Service opened a multi-agency coordination center at the Ochoco National Forest headquarters in Prineville.

In addition to focusing on the Ochoco and Waterman Complex fires, they will work on the Bridge 99 Complex, the Shaniko and Logging Unit fires, the Pine Creek Complex located on private land south of Fossil and southeast of Grass Valley, and the Sunflower Fire on Umatilla National Forest land.

“There is so much fire activity on such a large scale going on throughout Central Oregon that there is a lot of moving parts,” said David Morman, the coordination center’s information officer. “We want to make sure we are prioritizing where the resources go and that we are spending the money wisely on these incidents.”

The center is operated by a small group of experts whose goal is to make sure there is a clear understanding of the relative priorities and risks involved with the different fires as personnel dispatch resources that have been allocated from throughout the country.

“We are still leaving all of the on-the-ground fire suppression management to the individual incident commanders,” Morman added, “but we are trying to help them any way we can here.”

Going into this week, firefighters will likely encounter cooler weather with the possibility of rain, but with that comes the risk of more lightning, which could result in some new fire starts.

Fire information

Visit or, call the Central Oregon Fire Information Line at 541-416-6811, on Twitter follow “Central OR Fire Info” or #WatermanComplex.

A?public meeting on the Ochoco Waterman Complex fires will be held Tuesday, July 22, 7 p.m., at Bowman Museum.

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