Signs hint fires in SE Oregon may be flickering out
Monday, August 28, 2006
As the smoke began to clear Sunday after nearly a week of intense wildfires around Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon, reconnaissance pilots did a double take at what they were seeing below.
A herd of 100 bighorn sheep feared lost to the flames was capering among the rocks on the south end of the 9,700-foot mountain, said U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Carla Burnside of Burns.
"It included ewes and lambs," she said, with obvious enthusiasm. "There had been some concern that they were lost."
Pete Jankowski, another fire spokesman, said local people who'd known the bighorns were in the path of the wildfires had been concerned for days. The reconnaissance pilots came back smiling, he said.
"It was obviously good news," said Jankowski. "When you are flying over burn areas, it is kind of nice to see signs of the animals that live there coming back."
The vast, 117,550-acre South End complex of fires stretches across Steens Mountain from Frenchglen to Fields on the southeastern Oregon high desert, and now is 65 percent contained behind fire lines, said Burnside.
The survival of the bighorns was only one of several signs that the worst might be over for southeastern Oregon. Another signal was the reduced smoke in the air.
"I'm looking across the valley and I can see at least 25 miles," said Burnside. "It is getting a lot better."
Another was the diminished air tanker role, she said. A few days ago, air tankers were dumping retardant on 40-foot walls of flame, but they have been demobilized and smaller helicopters have taken over and were hitting hot spots with water.
"That tells you a lot," said Burnside.
On the downside, temperatures in the 90s and wind gusts up to 25 mph were forecast today, which could re-energize some wildfires. And there is a chance of thunderstorms and dry lightning Tuesday, which could bring more fire starts, she said.
"They are gearing up the local, initial attack on that," said Burnside.
Elsewhere, the Sharp Ridge fire, 27 miles north of John Day in the heavily forested Jumpoff Joe Roadless Area, has remained at 5,500 acres for several days and was 30 percent contained, reported the U.S. Forest Service. The Jim Creek fire, in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area near the Oregon-Washington boundary, was listed at 11,000 acres and 50 percent contained. Some structures there have been threatened, reported the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
The 63,056-acre Columbia complex on the Oregon-Washington boundary near Dayton, Wash., was 10 percent contained, and active fire behavior was reported. That complex consists of six separate fires and threatens numerous homes, a watershed and fisheries, according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
Richard Cockle: 541-963-8890; firstname.lastname@example.org
I was out huntinhg in thr Trout Creeks last fall and saw the result of this fire(s). They started near Fields and burned North and West over the top of the Steens and almost made it to French Glen. This was a hum dinger of a fire!
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