Wildfire: the natural, and man-made, disaster of the west

By Lori Kimbel

To say this summer’s fire season is one for the record books is an understatement. With more than 7 million acres burned across the lower 48 states, fire crews struggle to contain these natural and man-made disasters.
 
As of August 23, 2015 there were 69 large fires burning in the United States, not including Alaska, 38 of those are in Oregon and Washington. This number includes full suppression and resource managed fires, but it does not include the individual fires within complexes.
 
Wildfires in Oregon and Washington remain the nation’s top priority with 25 large fires that have burned a total of 1, 052,388 acres. Oregon and Washington each have 12 large fires, while Idaho tops the list with 16. Oregon’s Canyon Creek Complex was the number one priority fire in the nation on August 19.
 
Northeast Oregon August fires include the Phillips Creek Fire, which started on August 1, Cornet/Windy Ridge, which started on August 10, Bendire Complex and Eagle Complex, both of which started on August 11, Canyon Creek Complex, which started on August 12, the Grizzly Bear Complex, which started on August 13, the Eldorado, which started on August 14, and the Falls Creek Fire, which started on August 22.
 
The Phillips Creek Fire started just seven miles northwest of Elgin. This fire was human caused and burned 2,601 acres of the Umatilla National Forest.
 
Lightening caused the Cornet/ Windy Ridge fire, which is west of Durkee, north of Hereford, and south of Baker City. As of August 23, the fire had consumed 103,887 acres and is 80% contained. Four single residences have been lost along with 21 minor structures. Fire still threatens 187 single residences and 275 minor structures.
 
The cause of the Bendire Complex, which is 15 miles north of Juntura, was also lightning. As of August 21 it was 95% contained with 44,397 acres burned.
 
The Eagle Complex, 20 miles north of Richland is 5% contained and the fire has burned through 6,540 acres. This fire was also caused by lightning.
 
In mid-August the Canyon Creek Complex, which was started by lightning on August 12, became the nation’s top priority for resources. Just one mile south of John Day and Canyon City the fire went from bad to worse in an instant. There were 39 residences destroyed according to the Grant County Sheriff’s Office. Another 150 plus structures continued to be threatened and 50 plus structures were damaged.
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The Canyon Creek Complex had two Type One Crews, 18 Type two crews, four helicopters, 56 engines, 19 dozers, 8 skidgines, and 26 water tankers. As of August 23 the number of acres burned sat at 69,606 and the fire was 23% contained.
 
The Grizzly Bear Complex started out as 17 fires and has since become 5 fires after the original 17 burned together. The Grizzly Bear continues to be a very active fire and there is 0% containment of it, although progress is being made. Acres burned stands at 61, 650 for the moment. The fire is burning on Umatilla National Forest and private land protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
 
Values at risk are the communities of Troy, Grouse Flats, Eden Bench, Long Meadows Guard Station, which is currently blanketed in structure wrap to protect it from flames and flying embers as the Grizzly Bear Complex fire gets closer.
 
The Grizzly Bear Complex has gobbled up five residences and 28 outbuildings. There are five crews, 41 engines, one Type 3 helicopter and five structural task forces on the fire.
 
Five miles south of Unity the Eldorado fire has blazed through 20,601 acres and is 35% contained.
 
The latest fire is the Falls Creek fire. Just four miles from the town of Joseph, the Falls Creek Fire is at 200 acres. It started near the Hurricane Creek Trailhead of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
 
The national preparedness level stands at 5 on a scale of 1 to 5, which means geographic areas are experiencing major incidents which have the potential to exhaust all agency fire resources. Eighty percent (80%) of Type 1 and Type 2 Incident Management Teams and crews are committed, as well as the majority of other National Resources.
 
“Prevention is crucial. We need every Oregonian and visitor to be fire-savvy and aware of fire restrictions and common-sense practices,” said Governor Kate Brown.