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Fire danger increases statewide as Oregon crews monitor 2 growing blazes

The S-503 Fire burns on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation on Sunday, June 20, 2021.
Francis Kentura
The S-503 Fire burns on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation on Sunday, June 20, 2021.

Hot, dry conditions coupled with thunderstorms and potentially gusty winds in the forecast are increasing fire danger across much of Oregon.

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning in Southern Oregon covering most of Klamath and Lake counties, as well as slivers of Jackson, Douglas and Harney counties. A red flag warning means forecasters are confident fire weather is occurring or will soon.

Lightning strikes on dry fuels in that part of the state could spark wildfires, said National Weather Service Medford meteorologist Marc Spilde. Gusty winds could then cause those fires to spread rapidly.

“Those things could overwhelm initial attack … and so that’s why we issue this red flag warning, so we can get those [firefighting] resources into the positions they need to be,” Spilde said.

The red flag warning will start Monday at 5 p.m. and last through 3 a.m. Tuesday.

“Folks should familiarize themselves with any evacuation plans,” Spilde said. “Obviously, we had some significant fires in the area last year.”

The red flag warning comes as fire crews in the area are working to suppress the Cutoff Fire north of Bonanza in Klamath County. The fire, which measured at 1,150 acres Monday morning, threatened about 125 structures, according to a release from the incident command team.

Level 3 “go now” evacuations remained in place from Crocodile Lane north to Raccoon Lane, west of Thrasher Drive.

The American Red Cross and Klamath County Community Emergency Response Team established an emergency shelter at the Living Springs Fellow Church in Bonanza.

Meanwhile, the S-503 Fire burning on the north edge of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation grew to 6,200 acres overnight Sunday.

That fire threatens residences and structures in the Pine Grove community along Highway 216. Cultural and archaeological resources are also at risk. Shifting winds kept the fire away from Pine Grove, but a Level 2 “get set” evacuation order remained in place Monday afternoon for people west of Reservation Road.

The western edge of the fire has inched toward Highway 26, but remained about 2 miles away as of Monday midday.

Public information officer Pam Sichting said crews expect possible lightning and winds in the area, which could also contribute to the fire’s growth. However, the NWS has not issued any watches or warnings for the area.

“We do have structure protection groups out there assessing homes and prepping them just in case something were to happen,” Sichting said. “That’s always our priority.”

The NWS on Monday afternoon issued a red flag warning for Deschutes and Crook counties, as well as portions of Jefferson, Wheeler and Wasco counties. That warning will last until 11 p.m. Monday. A fire weather watch for a large chunk of Eastern Oregon extending northeast to La Grande and Enterprise was also issued. Isolated and scattered thunderstorms there could bring lightning strikes.

An excessive heat warning is in place for the southwest corner of the state. A heat advisory is in place for the Portland metro area into the Columbia River Gorge.

The air quality index from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality indicated minimal impacts to air quality from wildfires around the state as of Monday afternoon.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Bradley W. Parks