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Fewer 'holdover' fires seen: Calm between storms?

By Barney Lerten
Published On: Dec 24 2013 02:25:54 AM CST
Updated On: Aug 21 2013 11:32:29 AM CDT
Hand Lake fire

Willamette National Forest

Light smoke rises from a fire near Hand Lake, on the border of the Mt. Washington Wilderness Area

SISTERS, Ore. -

Initial-attack crews continue to tackle small new fires popping up around Central Oregon, most holdovers from recent lightning, as a threat of more thunderstorms returns in a few days -- but some of the fires being found, even at the height of fire season, are abandoned campfires, officials said Tuesday.

For the first time in a week, just one new fire was reported Tuesday to the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville, officials said late in the day.

That suspected lightning strike "holdover" was in the Pole Creek area, south of the Maury Mountains, and was reported late Tuesday afternoon. An engine crew was sent to respond.

Meanwhile, the Redmond tanker base delivered loads of retardant all day to the Government Flat Complex of wildfires threatening homes near The Dalles.

Another abandoned campfire was spotted just south of Redmond around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Responding firefighters had it controlled by about 10 p.m.

COIDC noted Wednesday that such campfires -- built in spite of an area public-lands burn ban -- "can increase firefighter response time to other new fires that might occur."

Sunday night, four fires were staffed overnight with smokejumpers and rappellers. Two were in the Three Sisters Wilderness, Area one just east of the Waldo Lake Wilderness and one by Windigo Lake, all within the Deschutes National Forest.

Local initial-attack  forces continue checking on all the recent fires to ensure they are out and responding to holdover fires from the lightning storms of last week, COIDC said.

A ban is still in effect on open fires, including charcoal fires on the Prineville District of the Bureau of Land Management, the Deschutes National Forest and the Crooked River National Grassland of the Ochoco National Forest.

Campfires are prohibited except in hosted and developed campgrounds. A list is available on either of these two web sites http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/centraloregon/fire/ or http://www.blm.gov/or/districts/prineville/index.php. These restrictions do not apply to affected Wilderness areas on the Deschutes National Forest.

Clearer skies also allowed residents to see -- and worry about -- two new smoke columns Sunday and Monday -- the first Sunday's wide, white layer of smoke from a small fire near Hand Lake, south of Mt. Washington, and Monday's dark smoke plume near Smith Rock a Jefferson County agricultural field burn.

In La Pine, crews from several agencies responded to a brushfire off West Drive and Faun Lane Monday afternoon that was stopped at about a half-acre within 20 minutes of the first reports from fire lookouts, officials said. The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Other fires were in mop-up stages, including one in the Service Creek area that was mapped at 29 acres.

Late Sunday afternoon, four smokejumpers were dispatched to Incident 634, a quarter-acre fire near Lemish Lake, four miles west of Crane Prairie Reservoir.

Also, four rappelers were dispatched to Incident 632, another quarter-acre fire near Windigo Lake, five miles south of Crescent Lake.

The National Weather Service issued a new fire weather watch for Central Oregon and other regions east of the Cascades, warning of more thunderstorms from Thursday morning through Friday evening.

Winds from the north to northeast at 5-10 mph are in the forecast for afternoons through Wednesday. But southwest winds are due to return by Thursday evening, possibly bringing a return of the smoke from Southern Oregon fires that the High Desert had been seeing.

Shifting winds Sunday cleared the smoke that had been blowing north into Central Oregon from Southern Oregon wildfires in recent days, bringing back mountain views – and just in time for High Desert residents to spot a swath of white smoke from a new wildfire near McKenzie Pass that authorities said was far smaller than it appeared.

The fire near Hand Lake grew to nine acres Sunday afternoon, and crews have kept it from growing larger, the Willamette National Forest reported Tuesday. By late Tuesday, it was 80 percent contained.

First spotted by the Coffin Mountain lookout, its location was reported to dispatch by Sand Mountain Lookout Blake Driver.

“We had a storm come through last Sunday, August 10th and we saw strikes hit right there in the Hand Lake area. It was just a matter of time and hot and dry weather before it came back to life,” said Driver.

The fire is straddling the Mt Washington Wilderness boundary. It has been staffed by three 20-person crews, two helicopters and two tree fallers.

“We have staffed this fire and are fully suppressing it,” said McKenzie River District Ranger Terry Baker. “Sometimes we may choose other management options, but for this fire, on this day, with the hot and dry weather expected mid-week, we’re going to work to put this one to rest."

Visitors are asked to avoid using the Hand Lake trails 4344 and 3513 as firefighting helicopters are in use and there are snags burning along the trails.

On Sunday, the relatively small fire's smoke had been visible over a wide area, from Highway 126 in the McKenzie River Corridor to the McKenzie Pass Highway, as well as Central Oregon communities from Sisters to Bend and Redmond.

Meanwhile, more crews are being released from the Geneva 14 Fire that broke out Friday on state Department of Forestry-protected land about 15 miles northeast of Sisters and a mile south of Fly Lake off Forest Service Road 2055. It burned just over 150 acres.

The area forest closure is still in effect within the Green Ridge Fire boundary near Camp Sherman, and roads within the fire perimeter remain closed to public travel. Details and updates about this closure are posted on the Deschutes National Forest web site http://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/centraloregon/alerts-notices.

Breezy westerly winds, 5 to 10 mph, are in the forecast for the afternoons through Wednesday. Relative humidity will decrease a little more each day as temperatures remain in the high 80s. The potential for thunderstorms returns to the region on Thursday and Friday afternoons and evenings.

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