Eclipse passes over Oregon with minimal impact on wildfire efforts –
Months of planning for the great solar eclipse on Aug. 21 appear to have paid off.
Minimal impacts on wildfire efforts were reported yesterday. Considering the influx of visitors during peak fire season, the day of the eclipse saw fewer than 10 new fires statewide across all jurisdictions. Those fires burned only about four acres. For the entire four-day eclipse period (Friday-Monday), new human-caused wildfire starts were down by nearly half. At Oregon State Parks, there were zero human-caused fires despite a heavy influx of campers.
Close cooperation between state agencies leading up to the eclipse helped spread messages about the importance of preventing wildfire. The Oregon Department of Transportation highway message boards alerted arriving visitors and residents alike to the extreme wildfire danger. Keep Oregon Green also peppered the state with similar messages on everything from billboards to restaurant place mats.
Meanwhile, while the public was looking up, firefighters were looking out and down at a number of still out of control wildland fires.
Oregon Department of Forestry brought in additional ground and aerial resources from out of state under the Northwest Compact. After briefings, they were deployed in the path of totality where fire danger was high to extreme and travel times uncertain. Some engaged with local ODF districts in helping on existing large fires that threatened ODF-protected lands.
Today, resources are being re-positioned in light of the state’s current fire picture. There are nine large uncontained fires currently burning in Oregon. The greatest in area is the Chetco Bar Fire in Curry County. The fire has continued to grow from its explosive expansion over the weekend, reaching an estimated 98,000 acres as of this morning.
Strong winds had been pushing the fire south, driving it onto land protected by the Coos Forest Protective Association (CFPA). Several thousand acres of protected timber have been affected.
Level 3 evacuations have uprooted more than 3,000 people. The Red Cross has set up a shelter for evacuees at Riley Creek Elementary School in Gold Beach. While Highway 101 remains open, motorists are requested to avoid traveling the section north of the Brookings area if possible. The fire has reached as close as six miles from Brookings, where smoke is affecting air quality.
Dry air mass, lower relative humidity and north/northeast winds continue to present heightened potential for rapid fire growth. Forecast weather points to continued fire growth to the southwest and south, which will threaten several high-value resources.
A Type One Incident Management Team will take over command of the fire tomorrow. Deputy State Forester Nancy Hirsch is already at the incident command post along with other ODF personnel. ODF yesterday sent to the fire two strike teams of engines that had come from Washington State to provide extra help during the eclipse. Two Oregon Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopters are also being redeployed from the Whitewater Fire in the Cascades to the Chetco Bar Fire. Total personnel on the scene from all agencies now stands at over 360.
The fire was started by lightning July 12 on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
New wildfires on ODF-protected land
Prompt initial attack stopped a flurry of new fires in Douglas County on Monday. Firefighters from Douglas Forest Protective Association responded to four fires over the course of the day. They kept the largest – a vehicle fire along I-5 that spread up a steep hillside – from advancing beyond 1.5 acres. The others were kept to a tenth of an acre or less.
Fire conditions forecast
Thunderstorms with accompanying lightning is the concern today for south-central Oregon, increasing the risk of new fire starts. Wednesday, lightning is expected to spread more widely to central and eastern Oregon. Fire restrictions and closures remain in effect. To find those for ODF-protected lands, go to click here