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Cost to fight Warm Springs wildfire: $5.4 million

By John Hendricks
Published On: Jul 26 2013 01:17:10 AM CDT
Updated On: Jul 29 2013 11:37:04 AM CDT
Sunnyside Turnoff thanks firefighters

Rawlin Richardson

As firefighters turned the tide on the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire, Warm Springs residents thanked them for their hard work

WARM SPRINGS, Ore. -

A week after it ignited, an army of firefighters has stopped the growth of the  51,000-acre Sunnyside Turnoff Fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation and the last closed roads have reopened, officials said Sunday as they declared the fire 95 percent contained, and the tab to battle it hit $5.4 million.

Sunday's figure of 51,340 acres, or about 80 square miles, was about 2,000 acres larger than the previous day, but that came from improved mapping, officials said in their Sunday morning update.

"Despite gusty winds, hot temperatures and low relative humidity, the fire remained within containment lines and had no perimeter growth yesterday (Saturday)," they said.

Another sign of progress: the firefighting force, which peaked at over 950 in recent days, dropped to under 800 late Saturday and to just 500 Sunday night.

Unfortunately, that means some resources were being reassigned to other fires breaking out around the region.

Unlike the human-caused Sunnyside Turnoff Fire, most of the other larger blazes around the state were caused by dry lightning in recent days.

However, managers on the Warm Springs blaze, now covering 80 square miles, still held to an expected full-containment date of next Thursday, as much work remains to be done to shore up and widen the lines build around the blaze.

And the cost of the battle keeps rising, $5.4 million at last report, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In more good news, the Level 1 pre-evacuation alert for residents in the Schoolie Flat area was lifted at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Fireline suppression rehabilitation already is under where where lines are no longer needed for containment. The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs has also initiated a Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation team to begin assessing rehabilitation needs.

Oregon Interagency Incident Management Team 4 will turn back management of the Sunnyside Turnoff fire to a local Incident Management Team on Monday at 8 p.m..

The fire had kept pushing north into the Mutton Mountains, growing by about 2,000 acres Thursday, mostly along the northeast perimeter.

Around 2:30 p.m. Friday, officials said, lines were completed around the fire's entire perimeter, allowing more to shift to mop-up work ahead of a passing dry cold front that was expected to kick up winds gusting to 30 mph.

There had been concern for the small community of Dant along the Deschutes River, where residents were warned they might have to leave.

But firefighters were able to construct line Friday from the end of the S-380 Road, east to the Deschutes River, then reinforce it with burnout work to rob any fire of fuel. That would keep the fire four miles south of Dant, if it holds.

Officials said residents of Dant, North Junction and the Deschutes Club had been working closely with fire managers to create defensible space around their houses, also placing privately owned pumps, sprinklers and hoses to aid in firefighting efforts, should the fire head their way.

Two task forces of engines are pre-positioned on the east side of the Deschutes River in what officials in their Friday night update called "the unlikely event that winds cause the fire to jump the river."

"The fire actually got there sooner today than firefighters could get a defensible line in place," Fire Information Officer Bill Queen said Thursday.

A new containment approach in the area will now involve private lands, land managed by the Prineville District of the Bureau of Land Management, and those of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
 
A house was destroyed by fire Thursday afternoon on the reservation -- but it was well east of the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire and not related to it, officials said.

Warm Springs Fire Chief Dan Martinez said the house was a total loss, but the family got out without injury. The cause of the fire was under investigation.

The house blaze sparked a 2-acre grass fire as several agencies involved in the Sunnyside Turnoff battle helped put it out, including several helicopters that dumped thousands of gallons of water to stop its spread, the fire chief said.

A portion of Hwy. 3 and Hwy. 8 were reopened early Thursday morning, which allowed for the popular Kah-Nee-Ta Resort to open. .

"The air quality is good today," Martinez said. "It's moderate, but we still have monitors in place."

The resort says the Village is open, including the pool, lower hotel, and golf course. The lodge remains closed as repairs are being made after a kitchen fire.

Martinez said Thursday firefighters were watching spot fires on the hills around the resort. He said there was some concern they would cause trees and other debris to come crashing down.

"We'll probably get a hand crew for instance up there in that tree limb and make sure it's 100 percent out," Martinez said.

But even though mop-up work has begun on this large fire, everyone knows fire season is far from over, on the reservation and off.

"The fuels that we have out in the forest now and out in the range land are very dry," Queen said.

For more information and maps of the fire's perimeter, visit their InciWeb page.

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