Oregon’s largest wildfire so far this relatively quiet season exploded across about 1,500 acres of thick timber on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation late Sunday and Monday, fueled by heat and dry winds, prompting some nighttime evacuations near the small town of Simnasho. Hundreds of firefighters were called in to tackle the fast-moving blaze.
The Log Springs Fire in the Simnasho Butte area was reported at only about an acre around 3:30 p.m. Sunday, said Ken Lydy of Warm Springs Fire Management. But it grew to 1,200 acres in just by nightfall, as winds to 15 mph out of the west pushed the flames toward the northeast.
As the heat and winds returned Monday fire activity also picked up near the town of Simnasho. But fire spokeswoman Rhonda Bishop said bulldozer lines around the town of 300 were holding, after a local crew out of Bend, called in on mutual aid, did a “good initial attack” Sunday night.
The winds late Sunday blew a large plume of smoke northeastward across the horizon, visible from Portland, 100 miles away, and on weather satellite photos as well.
Highways 3 and 9 were closed on the reservation as about 60 Bureau of Indian Affairs firefighters fought the blaze, which burned across the top of Simnasho Butte and more rolling terrain.
About 130 firefighters were on the lines Monday, with six more 20-person crews on order to help fight the blaze, burning in pine trees and brush, amid heavy downed and dead timber as well, officials said. A Type II incident management team out of Eugene was set to take over the blaze Monday evening. Two large helicopters were dropping buckets of water on the flame, and five fire engines were working the blaze.
“We’re throwing everything we’ve got at it right now, and it ain’t enough,” Lydy said early Sunday evening.
Structural protection crews were called into the small community of Simnasho as the fire grew quickly. By around 10 p.m., Lydy said, “They are moving some people out of houses,” though the town itself, with about 300 residents, was not being evacuated. About 65 people were moved out of a dozen or so homes in the “upper subdivision” area, and 12 people stayed at a shelter, set up at the “long house” in Simnasho.
“Burnout” operations to rob the fire of fuel were being conducted just outside the town.
There was some good news on the fire lines overnight, he said, as crews got “part of the heel of the fire lined,” and “burnout” lines near Simnasho held through the night.
“It’s not as intense as it was last night, because it cooled down,” Lydy said Monday morning. “It’ll start heating up later.”
The new fire broke out a short distance northeast of where the Dahl Pine Fire burned almost 300 acres on July 14, about 20 miles west of Warm Springs. Another fire on the reservation blackened about 150 acres on Sidwalter Butte in late April – and those were the three biggest fires reported in the region this fire season, which has begun in much quieter fashion than the past couple of years.
The cause of the blaze was under investigation, but the region has been peppered with hundreds of lightning strikes from thunderstorms in recent days, and fire crews have been able to douse most of them. One of the larger blazes grew to about two acres in the Newberry Crater area near La Pine, and another on private land in the Post-Paulina area grew to about two acres as well before crews got a handle on it, according to Jerry Barney of the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville.
The weather could provide a bit of a break for firefighters. Temperatures “cooled” to the mid’90s, after readings above 100 Saturday, and a “red flag warning” for low humidities across Central Oregon was dropped Sunday afternoon, as forecasters predicted cooler air aloft during the night.
The chance of thunderstorms also will abate during the week, forecasters said, as temperatures drop back to the 80s, but a new chance of thunder and lightning returns next weekend.