New fires in Northern Oregon keep firefighters busy

(Originally published at 8:52 a.m. PDT June 22, 2018)

At least three new wildfires grew quickly Thursday in Northern Oregon after hundreds of lightning strikes pounded the area Wednesday. The largest blaze is the Boxcar Fire just south of Maupin which is burning on both sides of Highway 197. Officials estimate Friday morning that it has burned 7,000 acres, but satellite imagery from 3:06 a.m. PDT on Friday, indicates, very, very unofficially, it has exceeded that by  several thousand acres. A Type 2 Incident Management Team has been ordered.

map fires northern Oregon
The red dots indicate heat detected by a satellite at 3:06 a.m. PDT June 22, 2018.

The Graham Fire is threatening structures 12 miles southeast of Madras, Oregon south of the Metolius River arm of Lake Billy Chinook.  Numerous residences in the Three Rivers Subdivision are under evacuation orders. The fire has burned approximately 2,000 acres. According to an announcement by the Oregon State Police the Graham Fire as been declared a conflagration by the governor of Oregon. This clears the way for the State Fire Marshal to mobilize firefighters and equipment to assist local resources battling the fire.

A third fire has grown to a significant size nine miles south of the Boxcar Fire, just west of the intersection of Highways 197 and 97. When we obtain more information about the fire we will update this post.

Teen who started Eagle Creek Fire ordered to pay $36.6 million in restitution

Above: 3-D map of the Eagle Creek Fire looking southeast, showing the perimeter at 7:30 p.m. PDT September 5, 2017.

A judge has ordered the teen who started the Eagle Creek Fire last summer to pay restitution totaling $36.6 million.

After a complaint from the teen’s attorney that the judgement was “absurd” District Judge John Olson said during the hearing on Monday that it was “clearly proportionate to the offense”.

Eagle Creek Fire
Firefighters protect the Multnomah Lodge at the Eagle Creek Fire, September 5, 2017. Inciweb.

The fire burned 48,831 acres in the Columbia River Gorge in September, 2017. Most of the fire was on the Oregon side of the river but a burning ember started a spot fire on the Washington side which was quickly extinguished.  The fire required the extended closure of Interstate 84, forced hundreds to evacuate, and poured smoke into Portland.

The judge acknowledged that the teen will have trouble coming up with $36.6 million and allowed him to establish a payment plan. If he completes probation and does not have any additional offenses, after 10 years the court may  grant a full or partial halt of the restitution.

1,500-acre fire at Malheur NWR

Above:  The Voltage Fire, undated photo, credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Firefighters are making progress on a wildfire that started April 27 in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, but it sounds like there will be extensive mopup since it is burning in heavy tule marsh vegetation. Firefighters are using roads, canals, open water, and nonburnable vegetation for control opportunities.

Voltage Fire
Voltage Fire. Photo credit: Peter Pearsall, Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Here is the latest information about the Voltage Fire issued Thursday by the Refuge:

The fire started April 27 from a lightning strike, and burned approximately 1,500 acres. Firefighters are continuing to suppress the wildfire in organic soils, and will be conducting interior burn out operations today to remove the immediate threat to control lines. Photo credit: Peter Pearsall, Friends of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Voltage Fire Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
Photo by Kay Steele

Teenager accused of starting Eagle Creek Fire likely to get probation

The fire burned over 48,000 acres in Columbia River Gorge in September, 2017

Above:  Photo of the Eagle Creek Fire posted September 5, 2017.

(Originally published at 12:53 p.m. MT February 10, 2018)

February 16 is the sentencing date for the boy who was 15 years old when he allegedly started the Eagle Creek Fire near the Washington/Oregon border in the Columbia River Gorge. A witness reported seeing the Vancouver juvenile throw a “smoke bomb” into vegetation near the Eagle Creek trail on September 2, 2017. In less than 24 hours the fire grew to 3,000 acres and to 20,000 acres by the morning of September 5.

Eventually burning 48,831 acres, it required the extended closure of Interstate 84, forced hundreds to evacuate, and poured smoke into Portland.

Eagle Creek Fire
A view across the Eagle Creek suspension bridge after a support cable pulled free during or after the fire. The bridge and cables hang near the stream. It will probably be removed before it causes more resource damage.

Because the boy is a juvenile, Oregon Live reports, the options for sentencing include years of probation, probably less than eight days of detention, or about a year in a juvenile correctional facility.

If the judge requires restitution for the costs of suppressing and rehabbing the fire, which are reportedly more than $18 million, the boy will likely only be able to pay a small fraction of the total.

Eagle Creek Fire
The Oneonta Tunnel burned during the Eagle Creek Fire. Rocks are falling from the burned slopes above onto Hwy. 30 and the trail, creating a hazard that will grow worse with winter rains.
Eagle Creek Fire
There is some fire damage near the Multnomah Falls, but the main falls area was mostly spared. Rocks falling in the vicinity of the falls and lodge are concerns.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Eagle Creek Fire”.

(All photos are from InciWeb)

Another fire truck rollover — this time, into a creek

The driver was pinned underneath the engine and partially submerged in the creek.

(Above: photo from the report shows the contracted engine after rolling off the road into a creek.)

(Originally published at 5:36 p.m. MDT October 19, 2017)

Below is the summary from the report of the rollover of an engine that was working on the Miller Complex in southwest Oregon.


On 27 August 2017, a Type 6 contract engine was conducting structure triage assessments while assigned to the Miller Complex in southwestern Oregon, managed by a Type 1 Incident Management Team (IMT). The crew had just resumed their trip after a short break when the driver came too close to the edge of the roadway and rolled down a steep embankment into a shallow creek.

The engine driver was not wearing his seatbelt and was seriously injured. Although not ejected, the driver was partially pinned underneath the engine, and partially submersed in the creek. The other two engine crewmembers were seat-belted, received minor injuries, and tried to radio for help.

After unsuccessful attempts at radio communication, one crewmember set out on foot to find help. After over one hour searching for help, the crewmember found a nearby resident who helped the accident victim locate a heavy equipment boss assigned to the fire.

A Heavy Equipment Boss (HEQB) assigned to the Division was also EMT-B qualified and became the first responder and incident-within-incident commander (IIC). This IIC managed a large accident response effort which included a staging area manager, extrication team, paramedics, low-angle rescue team, and multiple aircraft resources.

All three victims were successfully and rapidly transported to a hospital about 40 miles away due to a solid response plan implemented by a fireline leader with a calm demeanor and a strong command presence. Agency and IMT support for the injured contractor employee from the initial patient response to the patient’s three-week admission to hospital was outstanding. Relationships between the Forest Service and the contracting community have been further strengthened by the post-accident patient support.


To date, Wildfire Today has documented over three dozen rollovers of fire apparatus working on wildland fires. 

Timeline of Chetco Bar Megafire shows decisions made during initial attack

The fire has burned 191,000 acres.

Above: The Chetco Bar Fire on July 13, 2017, day two, as seen from a helicopter during the Type 3 Incident Commander’s first recon flight.

Originally published at 10:47 a.m. MDT October 2, 2017.

In mid-August when the Chetco Bar Fire in southwest Oregon quadrupled in size during a four-day period from 22,042 to 97,758 acres, some began wondering, in comments on this site and other venues, why the U.S. Forest Service did not suppress it soon after it was reported by a commercial airline pilot at 2:42 p.m. July 12.

Since it started the fire has burned 191,090 acres and cost taxpayers almost $61 million.

Chetco Bar Fire map
Map showing the location of the Chetco Bar Fire (on the left) October 2, 2017. USFS.

The USFS has released a high tech timeline presentation that highlights some of the decisions and events that occurred during the course of the fire. It is embedded at the bottom of this article. Some of the interactive map features may not work — if that is the case, you can view it the USFS website.

The fire started from a lightning strike during a storm on June 24 and 25 and was spotted by the airline pilot 17 days later. The timeline does not mention if infrared flights or any other detection methods were used that possibly could have resulted in an initial attack on the fire soon after it started rather than more than two weeks later.

(All articles on Wildfire Today about the Chetco Bar Fire can be found here.)

A fixed wing Air Attack ship was dispatched after the airliner pilot’s report. Air Attack recommended dispatching a Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT), a helicopter for water bucket support, and inserting rappellers. At that time the fire had burned about half an acre.

The first four firefighters rappelled into the area an hour and 32 minutes after the first report. Three helicopters dropped 17,280 gallons of water on the fire that afternoon and evening until after 9 p.m., but no air tankers worked the fire until a SEAT made two drops on the second day, July 13. While the helicopters dropped water, the four firefighters built a helispot. At the end of the first day Air Attack reported the fire was holding at three-quarters of an acre.

On day two a second load of four rappellers was sent to the fire. Below is an excerpt from the USFS timeline, and following that, the high-tech timeline:


“[On day two, July 13, the second load of four rappellers] were given a briefing, then loaded in the helicopter at 9 a.m. to fly the 20 minutes to the fire location. From the air, the fire appeared to have grown to about 10 acres overnight, with a few areas of isolated smoke columns. The crew noted the steep ground, the old burn scar and the fact the fire was burning mid-slope. They could see a lot of rollout (burning debris rolling below the main fire). Due to the remoteness of the area and the steep topography, the crew requested a few more orbits around the fire to gather more intelligence from the high vantage point.

“Upon landing, their perspective changed. “The ground was really, really steep. We know views from the air can be deceiving, but we couldn’t see the fire or the smoke from the helispot. I originally thought the trees below the helispot were reproduction from an old fire, but then I realized the slope was so steep I was only seeing the tree tops. They were actually 200 foot tall, 4-foot DBH (diameter at breast height) trees,” said a senior firefighter on the second load of rappellers.

“One rappeller began scouting for an escape route along the ridge to the north of the helispot, and found extremely dense vegetation with manzanita, tan oak and madrone, along with dead and downed logs. The ground was covered with madrone leaves that were slick – combined with the steep terrain, it made staying upright a challenge.

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