Sleepy fire season awakes across Oregon
Last updated 9/6/2022 at Noon
All over Sisters Country much of the talk this summer, and into the holiday weekend, was the dearth of wildfires this year as compared to last. Indeed the skies over Sisters until just the last few days have largely been crystal blue with excellent air quality.
Expressions of gratitude were heard in coffee spots, stores, and gas stations all around town.
“Weather is always what I hear when customers want to chitchat,” said Darrell, a gas station attendant. “And this summer it almost always includes talk about the wildfire situation.”
Working around thousands of gallons of highly combustible material, Darrell has a sixth sense about fire.
Things are changing, however. On August 29, Oregon Governor Kate Brown declared a statewide fire emergency.
“With wildfire behavior increasing across the state, and with the threat of fire not likely to recede in the near future, it is imperative that we act now to prevent further loss — of life, property, business, and our natural resources,” Brown said in her statement announcing the emergency declaration.
Eleven fires being fought are large enough to be tracked by InciWeb the federal, state, and local interagency all-risk incident information management system. Four are in Wallowa National Forest. One, the Double Creek fire, had exploded to 38,538 acres as of press time, double the Rum Creek fire in the Rogue River/Siskiyou National Forest clocking in at 19,945 acres, and 34 percent contained. It was started by lightning on August 12.
The Nebo was at 6,304 acres and the Sturgill at 12,121, both in the Wallowas, and both caused by lightning strikes.
The periodic smoke in Sisters is likely coming from the Cedar Creek Fire near Waldo Lake. It too is only 12 percent contained and had consumed 16,715 acres at press time, doubling in five days.
A trio of fires — the Potter, Big Swamp, and Windigo in the Umpqua National Forest — have burned a combined 2,500 acres and are now in mop-up operation. The Crockets Knob fire has grown to 4,265 acres and is only 20 percent contained. It sits in the Malheur National Forest.
Eight of Oregon’s fires being battled are lightning caused, from an August 22 event that saw thousands of strikes across Central Oregon.
Brown’s action appears to have been motivated by the Rum Creek fire. Southwest Oregon has been particularly hard hit with fire the last three years. Centered near Galice, a highly popular fishing and rafting recreation area on the Rogue River, the fire has destroyed one house and two mining structures thus far. It is not expected to be fully contained until October 31.
According to Brown’s announcement, “The Governor’s declaration authorizes the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Office of the State Fire Marshal, in coordination with the Oregon Department of Emergency Management, to utilize personnel, equipment, and facilities from other state agencies in order to respond to or mitigate the effects of the wildfire emergency. The declaration allows state agencies to temporarily suspend any rules that impair the response to wildfires, if needed, and also allows the state to request assistance from other states through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact if necessary.”
Brown said the National Guard would be used if other resources are depleted.
At the Sisters Ranger District parking lot, almost every day is the scene of a huddle of Forest Service workers, and some independent contractors. They are on loan from other forests as far away as New Mexico and Colorado. They rotate in to take preventive and preemptive action, often to remove fuel in targeted locations.
Campers on the entire stretch of the Metolius were gratefully surprised Sunday by visits from teams checking on campsites for illegal fires. Open fires, including wood stoves and charcoal briquette fires, are currently prohibited in the Sisters Ranger District, except in the following designated campgrounds:
Allen Springs, Allingham, Blue Bay, Camp Sherman, Candle Creek, Cold Spring, Driftwood, Gorge, Graham Corral, Indian Ford, Jack Creek, Lava Camp Lake, Link Creek, Lower Bridge, Lower Canyon Creek, Perry South, Pine Rest, Pioneer Ford, Riverside, Scout Lake, Sheep Spring, Smiling River, South Shore, Three Creek Lake, Three Creek Meadow, Three Creek Horse Camp, and Whispering Pine Horse Camp.