Parts of Warm Springs under Level 2 evacuation notice
Parts of Jefferson County are on evacuation notices as the Lionshead Fire continues to burn 14 miles west of Warm Springs, and the Warm Springs Police Department is urging people going to Portland to consider a different route than Highway 26.
Tuesday morning the fire was burning 168,097 acres and was 5% contained.
The Sidwalter Flats area of Warm Springs was moved to a Level 2 evacuation notice Monday — meaning residents should be ready to leave at any moment. And the Simnasho was on a Level 1 evacuation notice — meaning residents should have a plan to leave should it be necessary. In Warm Springs, the old Warm Springs Elementary gym is serving as the evacuation center.
The Warm Springs Police Department said on Facebook that visibility is less than a quarter mile on Highway 26 at the Highway 9 turnoff toward Simnasho.
"If you choose to travel on Highway 26, be cautious. There is a lot of fire personnel traffic and as mentioned above, thick smoke," the Facebook post said.
As of Tuesday morning, 1,182 personnel were working on the fire, with 47 crews, 49 engines, nine dozers, 29 water tenders and 11 helicopters.
But smoke hadn't dissipated as much as expected Tuesday, which meant flights over the fire aren't possible because of poor visibility.
The most active fire growth is on the northeast portion of the fire on the Warm Springs Reservation. Crews worked there Monday and through the night to build a containment line and conduct strategic firing operations.
Fire managers are continuing to coordinate with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs on the efforts. Crews will be working from roads and dozer lines for containment.
Officials with Pacific Northwest Team 3 held an online community meeting Saturday evening to talk about the Lionshead Fire.
Incident Commander Noel Livingston started the discussion, explaining that his interagency team comprises people from Oregon and Washington, along with a few from other areas, who are trained to do large complex incident management.
The team took over command of the fire on Sept. 8.
"The situation we have currently on Lionshead ... is really unprecedented," Livingston said.
When Team 3 took command, the fire was burning about 26 square miles.
"There really wasn't any fire to the west," except for the Beachie Creek Fire, Livingston said. "A number of the other fires that you hear about up and down the Cascades didn't exist at that point."
But with high winds last week, the fire moved over the top of Mount Jefferson and to Detroit Lake, Livingston said. At the same time, the Beachie Creek Fire also grew, in part because of downed power lines. And the Riverside Fire had "tremendous movement" as well.
"To put this in perspective, there is now fire activity from Warm Springs nearly all the way to the Willamette Valley," Livingston said. And to the south, the Holiday Farm Fire is burning, and there are more fires in Southern Oregon.
"Throughout Oregon, we have these extremely large, destructive fires," he said. "It really is unprecedented."
Having so many fires puts a strain on available resources.
"That's going to be one of the big challenges going forth and into the fall," Livingston said.
He said the team's focus has been on keeping communities and firefighters safe. As winds have calmed down, the firefighters are shifting back to a more traditional suppression strategy, Livingston said, "but on a huge scale."
He praised the firefighters who coordinated with other agencies to get residents of Detroit. The western flank burned through the area, trapping residents there, Livingston said.
"My hat's off to the firefighters that were able to pull that off," he said.
On Monday, the team reported that 264 homes and 14 commercial properties were destroyed in the Detroit area.
Brett Thomas, one of the operation section chiefs, explained the different areas of the fire.
"When we have an incident of this size, we have to pretty much approach it in segments, small bites," Thomas said.
The Lionshead Fire is broken into four branches, as well as a night shift, he said.
Branch 1 is the eastern flank and is primarily on the Warm Springs Agency.
That is the part of the fire Team 3 inherited when it took over, Thomas said, and much work had already been done, including the P-100 Road.
"We've been applying fire to the landscape to bring that fire back down to the road," Thomas said. That's because the area is in "very, very challenging terrain," so the crew has to "bring the fire to us."
On the southern branch of the fire, Thomas said, the team is trying to use the natural features, including a large lava flow.
There, crews are working to keep the fire from spreading to Camp Sherman and Sisters, Thomas said.
On the west, crews are focused on Detroit and Idanha.
"Over the last couple of days, we've been able to stabilize that area," he said.
They are looking for "control features," he said. "That's going to be a long haul."
Part of the work includes trying to tie into previous fire scars, as well as using mechanized dozer lines.
In the westernmost division, crews are trying to bring the fire down to protect the remaining structures, and they have had some success, he said.
He said the Oregon State Fire Marshals are working with the crews in town, which has helped the team move back into the wildlands.
The fourth branch of the fire is primarily on the Mount Hood National Forest and connects back to the Warm Springs Agency.
The team has been able to assign more firefighters to the area over the past few days, Thomas said, and is concerned with protecting the Olallie Lake complex and a fire lookout on Sunnyside Butte.
Crews are working from the east to the west, using dozer lines and existing Forest Service roads. They are looking at the possibility of building a line to the Riverside Fire, which is burning a half-mile southeast of Estacada.
"We very well could have to build a perimeter line that connects into one of those bigger fires," Thomas said.
He added that the team has alternate and contingency plans as it works.
J.B. Brock, a liaison officer, said the team works with local sheriff's offices regarding evacuations.
Jefferson County Sheriff's Sgt. David Pond, who is the county's emergency manager, explained where the current evacuation notices were Saturday night.
He said if any area moves to Level 3, where people must leave, deputies will alert residents.
"We'll be running sirens and knocking on doors and asking you to evacuate," he said. "We hope it doesn't come to that."
He praised Team 3 for their work. He also said JCSO would like to see more people sign up to get alerts.
JCSO's Facebook page is updated as alerts change, he said.
"We take these setting and lifting of evacuations very seriously, and we coordinate with all our other partners when we do so."
Pond encouraged people under Level 1 evacuation notices to make a family plan "of where you're going to go, what you're going to bring, and include your pets in that," he said, adding that Sisters High School is currently designated as an emergency shelter.
Brock said the fire's eastern side had been the most stable, but the team is working with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to make sure people would get the information if evacuations were needed.
He said the best information is from JCSO.
"We try to amplify that message," he said.
Later in the meeting, someone asked what the potential was for the fire to move into the Metolius Basin and Camp Sherman.
"Again, there's no bulletproof answer there, but we can certainly safely say that we're putting a tremendous amount of effort into this corner here," Brock said, pointing at a map of the fire.
"I think the incident itself is in a pretty good spot there," he said, adding that the lines are defendable.
"We've certainly recognized ... there's a lot of burn scars that are out there from a long history of large fires," Brock said.
While those scars can inhibit the spread of fire, this year, "the fire progressed rapidly through those burn scars," he said. "Yes, that's been a challenge for us."
He expects that the team will be able to defend the area, even if the weather becomes adverse.
People in the Suttle Lake and Blue Lake area also wondered about evacuations.
"We haven't forgotten about you," Pond said. "Right now, you're not in a huge threat."
Kat Navarro addressed the air quality due to smoke. She said even if winds increase and move the smoke out, more could move in from the Holiday Farm or Beachie Creek fires. She said the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is assessing the air quality, both at the state and county levels.
"The best way to protect yourself is to reduce exposure," she said.
Bobby Brunoe, general manager of Natural Resources with CTWS, talked about the history of the Tribes.
"My heart goes out to all who have been affected by these historic fires," Brunoe said.
"The area that's burned around Lionshead and Mount Jefferson is a special place to the Tribes," he said. And it is burning into forest area with a lot of commercial timber that helps sustain the Tribes.
Brunoe said he wanted to give a shout out to the partners working on the fire, as well as to the local home unit, including Warm Springs Fire Management.
"They've worked really hard, and also firefighters on the ground," Brunoe said.
Ryan Miller, with the Oregon Department of Forestry, also praised the team. He worked with Team 3 on the White River Fire, as well.
"I would just like to publicly thank the team for the work they did, the rapid response to this new fire that immediately became a priority," Miller said.
He said ODF is concerned for private landowners, and his heart goes out to the people of Detroit and Idanha.
"We can't say enough about that," Miller said.
The team prioritized life safety and evacuations "and went into an incredibly hostile environment and did what they had to do," Miller said. "We've got a long way ahead of us but appreciate what's been going on so far."
Holly Jewkes is a supervisor on the Deschutes National Forest.
She said many partners have come together to fight the fires.
"We're stronger when we're together, so thank you so much," she said.
She, too, praised Team 3 for taking on the work of the fire and spending weeks away from their homes.
"I just really want to thank the team and the firefighters for their service and the sacrifice they make to do that," she said. "I hope that everybody stays well and stays safe."
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