As a new Central Oregon fire grows, smoke dampens Bootleg Fire to the south
Eight large fires are burning across Oregon and Washington, prompting evacuations in Southern and Central Oregon, and blanketing much of the southeastern corner of the state in smoke.
In Oregon, the Jack Fire east of Glide had grown to more than 10,000 acres and was 10% contained as of midday Monday. The Grandview Fire north of Sisters, which sparked Sunday, quickly grew to 4,000 acres, with zero containment. Evacuations are in place for both, as well as for the massive south-central Oregon Bootleg Fire, the largest in the state, where firefighters reported that heavy smoke worked in their favor by slowing the conflagration’s growth.
“This is very early,” said Rich Saalsaa, a public information officer with the Office of the State Fire Marshal. “This kind of fire situation in the state was this way at Labor Day last year. And now we’re just in the front part of July.”
Evacuation orders are in place about 14 miles northeast of Sisters as the the Grandview Fire continues to grow in Central Oregon.
The fire, which began on Oregon Department of Forestry lands and in the Crooked River Grassland, has spread rapidly as it burned through grass and juniper, and it had grown to roughly 4,000 acres as of noon Monday.
Evacuations, which straddle the Jefferson-Deschutes county line, are being updated online and can be found via interactive map here:
Sisters Middle School has been set up as a temporary evacuation site and shelter, and the Deschutes County Fairgrounds is accepting large animals evacuated from the path of the fire.
The Jack Fire, east of Roseburg and northwest of Crater Lake, had grown to over 12,500 acres Monday morning, and was threatening close to 250 structures. Thought it was only 10% contained Monday morning, firefighters said they made significant progress Sunday by clearing fuel and strengthening containment lines near Dog Mountain.
All U.S. Forest Service campgrounds in the fire’s immediate vicinity are under immediate Level 3, or “go now,” evacuation orders, as are the Dry Creek community and other rural residences in the area. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is updating its interactive evacuation map here:
The National Weather Service said in a statement that areas west of the Cascades in the vicinity of the Jack Fire are likely to see continued smoke into late afternoon and evening Monday.
Meanwhile, firefighters on the massive Bootleg Fire in south-central Oregon have reported a small reprieve, ironically due to the smoke the fire itself has created.
The fire has burned across major power lines that deliver electricity to California and has destroyed seven homes. There are no reported injuries or fatalities. Saalsaa, of the state fire marshal’s office, said officials are expecting it to continue burning for several weeks at least based on its size.
The Bootleg Fire had earlier roared through eastern Klamath County, doubling in size for two days running. By Sunday morning, it had burned nearly 144,000 acres, with zero containment. The fire moved through the Sycan Estates development and burned for about eight miles alongside a high voltage powerline corridor that supplies electricity to Northern California.
But late Sunday night, fire officials said the heavy smoke created by the previous days’ extreme fire behavior had caused the fire to moderate, pushing the total area burned to 150,812 acres.
Northwest Incident Management Team 10, which is currently leading the fire response, quoted fire behavior expert Forrest Ownby on its Facebook page:
“The smoke from yesterday shaded the fire today, which greatly moderated fire behavior. The shade kept temperatures a little lower and relative humidity a little higher, which resulted in far less fire growth than yesterday.”
The team’s Operations Chief Bruce Meyer said, “with the moderated fire behavior today, firefighters were able to make greater progress toward containment compared to yesterday when their safety was highly compromised.”
An evacuation center set up at the Klamath County Fairgrounds was housing nearly three dozen people displaced by the fire as of Sunday afternoon, according to Darrell Fuller, a disaster response volunteer and public information officer for the shelter.
Ben Bucher and his daughter Kimberly Bucher were among the nearly three dozen evacuees staying at the shelter. Four others were put up in a motel.
The Buchers lost the trailers on their 10-acre property near the Sycan Forest Estates in Beatty.
“It’s all I can think about,” Ben said. “I haven’t slept for three days.”
The Bucher family didn’t think the fire would turn towards their property at first.
“It didn’t seem like it was going our direction but it went every direction,” Ben Bucher said.
The Buchers stood outside the Klamath County Fairgrounds Sunday afternoon to receive a care package from a friend visiting them from out of town. Beads of sweat dripped from Ben Bucher’s face as he tried to hold his German Shepherd, Gretchen, still. The dog was antsy because her 14 puppies were inside the fairgrounds event center.
Ben Bucher said he’s feeling the grief of losing his home and all of his possessions, including all the family photos.
“Everything happened so fast, we got everything that was living and left,” he said.
That was on Thursday. He and his wife, and their daughter found out on Saturday that all was lost.
“I figured it was gone, but … it left a really empty feeling in me,” he said. “Absolutely everything – boom, gone.”
“Right now, we just don’t know where to go from here – at all,” Kimberly Bucher said.
Darrell Fuller says emotions like these are common among evacuees of wildfires or house fires. Fuller, originally from Klamath Falls, lost his own home in a house fire in 2007.
“The world just stops turning for you for a few days because you don’t know what to do,” Fuller said, “and some of these people have evacuated from their homes with literally just the clothes on their backs.”
At the shelter, evacuees find emotional support in addition to food and water. Mental health counseling is available as well as nursing care. Case managers are also on site to help them figure out what their next steps are for housing.
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