Firefighters challenged by North Fork Fire
While the 2019 fire season officially ended on Oct. 1, no one counted on strong winds with high gusts creating ideal conditions for fires in late October.
At least 22 wild fires broke out in the Willamette Valley on Oct. 29-30 as windy and dry conditions challenged firefighters in Western Oregon. Suppression efforts continued during the week as those on the ground, including industrial landowner partners and the Oregon Department of Forestry, worked to eliminate the fires in multiple ODF districts.
One of those fires, the North Fork Fire, located 16 miles east of Molalla, was first estimated at 65 acres growing to 80 acres by Oct. 30. On Oct. 29, smoke extended all the way to the coast due to the winds. However, even though it was in steep terrain, firefighters made significant progress and by midday on Wednesday it was in mop-up status.
Other area fires include the Crankshaft Fire, about six miles south of Gates estimated at 25 acres and growing at midweek; the Gopher Valley Fire, about five miles north of Sheridan estimated at 20 acres and also growing at midweek. Both were in areas of difficult access. The Detroit Dam fire was five miles west of Detroit at an estimated 50 acres with significant progress midweek.
"Though we are well outside the fire season, it is fairly common to see fires of this nature this time of the year due to lower humidity, seasonal winds and dry conditions," said Blake Ellis, ODF's fire operations manager.
"Our resources and those of our partners and cooperators train to consider the conditions, not the calendar. We appreciate the help from the public in making the same considerations and saving those burn piles for later in the season to help prevent additional fires," Ellis added in a release.
The fires are under investigation even though the theories indicate most of the fires were caused by prescribed burns that were restarted by the easterly winds and very dry conditions.
The ODF didn't close any roads or that were structures threatened, and most resources included water tenders, engines and hand crews against the fire.
"It is important to note the timing of these fires," said Andy White, ODF's northwest Oregon area director. "The majority of these burns were started weeks ago when conditions were optimal for burning. ODF encourages and supports landowners to take advantage of optimal conditions for fuels reduction work on their property. Precautions are taken, forecasts are considered and every effort is made to ensure minimal impact and maximum benefit to the landscape. This is a valuable reminder of how quickly conditions can change and it highlights the value of our partnerships with landowners and other agencies," he said.
At midweek, ODF flew a contracted airplane on that Tuesday and Wednesday to check on known fires and perceive new starts or smoke from rekindled slash piles. Given the steep terrain, remote access and multiple ownerships across the valley, the plane is a valuable tool toward covering a lot of land in a short time.
The agency appreciates help from the public in preventing new fires and asks Oregonians to hold off back yard burn piles until weather conditions improve.
There may be visible smoke in some areas as resources remain engaged on these fires. The Department of Environmental Quality will continue to monitor for smoke and has confirmed air quality remained in the moderate range. To check DEQ's Air Quality Index, go to bit.ly/2N372UF or download the free OregonAir app.
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