Hotshots, smokejumpers and helitack firefighters are among the forces working to contain the 32-acre lightning-sparked Amelia Fire in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest’s Eagle Cap Wilderness east of Union. The fire was first reported on August 9, is burning in subalpine fir, and if all goes according to plan, fire managers expect full containment to be achieved this evening.
Yesterday, firefighters completed containment of the 3-acre Elk Fire in the Baker City Watershed. The fire, which is burning in the Elkhorn Mountains eight miles west of Baker City, was sparked by an August 7 lightning strike. Favorable weather and recent rains aided crews in their work; firefighters will continue suppression efforts until the fire is extinguished.
In total, last week’s lightning storms sparked about two dozen small fires across the forest, but aggressive initial attack held almost all of the new starts to an acre or less. Throughout Eastern Oregon, more than 100 new fires were reported to the Blue Mountains Interagency Dispatch Center.
“I’m proud of the great work being done by our firefighters and those of our partners, under challenging circumstances,” Wallowa-Whitman Fire Management Officer Noel Livingston said. “Lightning storms after a spell of hot, dry weather can be a recipe for major wildfires, but we avoided that scenario in large part due to prompt reporting, rapid response and favorable weather conditions.”
After a lightning storm, small fires can smolder undetected until warmer, drier conditions cause these “holdover” blazes to rekindle. Whitman District Ranger Kendall Cikanek said fire managers are working with the Oregon Department of Forestry to check for any undetected new fires or hot spots on existing fires with aerial reconnaissance and detection.
“We will promptly work to extinguish any fire or heat sources that we see from that technology or our daily monitoring efforts,” Cikanek said.
The 1,750-acre Granite Gulch Fire, burning in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, is being managed under a confinement strategy; the fire received significant rainfall and behavior has moderated significantly. Fire managers will continue to monitor the fire by air and from Mule Peak Lookout; firefighters will be deployed to the fire when weather conditions allow it to become active again.
A control strategy using indirect suppression tactics has been approved by line officers and fire managers for the Hollow Log Fire, northeast of Joseph. Firefighters are establishing an organization to implement those tactics for suppression and resource objectives; those efforts are expected to continue for four to five days.
While the rain that accompanied these storms may have temporarily dampened the landscape, it will not take long for fine fuels such as grass and brush to dry out again. Industrial Fire Precaution Levels have been dropped to Level I for commercial operations, but Phase A of the Public Use Restrictions remains in place, and forest visitors are encouraged to remain vigilant. Call 911 to report any wildfire.
For more information about wildfire, contact the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest at (541) 523-6391.