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Growth slowing down on Warm Springs wildfire

By Barney Lerten
Published On: Jul 23 2013 11:08:18 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 25 2013 11:23:41 PM CDT
Sunnyside Turnoff Fire burnout

Glenn Miller/Oregon Interagency Mgmt. Team 4

Burnout operations Thursday evening on the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire south of the Mutton Mountains

WARM SPRINGS -

The rapid growth has slowed considerably on the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, now mapped at just over 47,000 acres, officials said Thursday as segments of two highways reopened to the public, along with the Kah-Nee-Ta resort.

The 1,660-acre growth reported Thursday was the least in a day since the fire broke out Saturday morning.

As of Thursday night, 770 firefighters and support personnel were on the lines.

A house was destroyed by fire Thursday afternoon on the reservation -- but it was well east of the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire and not related, 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

While the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire grew by close to 6,000 acres Tuesday, officials said the rest of the growth was from better mapping of the four-day-old blaze. And while the fire was active again on the north side Wednesday, moving further north into the Mutton Mountains, crews made progress to firm up lines as well.

And there was another sign of progress on the south end of the fire: Hwy 3 south from U.S. Hwy. 26 and Highway 8 into the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort area reopened early Thursday, as will most of the resort (except for the lodge).

Highway 3 was still closed to the public between the Highway 9 (Simnasho) Junction and Highway 8 junction, north out of Warm Springs, though officials said local residents are allowed access.

The resort reopened its village rooms, teepee camps, RV center and golf course, as well as the pools. The lodge and adjoining restaurants, hit by a kitchen and attic fire late last week, will remain temporarily closed, said Carlos Smith, general manager.

"Our team is doing everything in their power to help our guests and our new expanded family of firefighters," Smith said.

The human-caused 45,491-acre fire  covers over 73 square miles.

The split nature of the blaze -- lines firming up to the south, still causing problems to the south -- meant the containment figure held at 40 percent Thursday. And those problems were evident in Thursday morning's update on the fire's InciWeb page, which pushed back the expected containment date by nearly a week, from Sunday to next Thursday.

The fire remains south of the S-330 road and east of the S-110 road along the western perimeter. The rest of the fire stayed northeast of Upper Dry Creek Road, and north and west of the Deschutes River.

An initial evacuation notice (Level 1) was given Tuesday night by tribal police to residents in the Schoolie Flats area, near the northwest flank of the fire. That means residents should be aware of fire risk in their area and begin to prepare for evacuation, in the event that conditions worsen.

Fire managers said they are working with Warm Springs police to assess the conditions each day and determine when the order can be lifted.

As light and heavy helicopters keep dropping water, the fire's other perimeters are already in patrol and monitor status. But now, mop-up is beginning along the northern perimeter, in areas where fire conditions have cooled.

Contingencies continue to be developed in the event the fire crosses east of the Deschutes River, where the BLM shut the river segment to rafters for most of Tuesday but reopened it late in the day. They also are under way for fire containing on the northeast flank of the blaze.

Charley Canyon residents were allowed to return home earlier this week, but it, too, is still closed to public access.

Fire managers also acknowledged the smoky conditions from the fire – which worsened air quality in Bend, Madras and Prineville to the “moderate” category Tuesday and again Wednesday morning in the Oregon DEQ Air Quality Index.  All monitoring stations reported good air quality Thursday morning,

Fire officials said they were working with air quality experts to install air monitors in other strategic spots, and to make that data available online to help assess health risks.

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