Eastern Oregon fire traps hunters

Two bowhunters in eastern Oregon have been trapped by a fast-moving wildfire. The Parish Cabin Fire, 15 miles northeast of Seneca, forced the evacuation of about two dozen people from campgrounds and dispersed hunting camps Tuesday night. Glenn Palmer, Grant County Sheriff, said the trapped couple had called relatives in the Portland area on Tuesday evening and said they were hiking back out toward their car, which was parked on the south side of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness.

“They’re not going to be able to drive out,” Palmer said. “The fire’s cut off their escape route.”

The Oregonian reported that Palmer sent two deputies to the area late Tuesday, but they couldn’t find the couple’s car at the High Lake trailhead. The fire’s burned across area roads, and numerous downed trees in the area have made it inaccessible by ground; the sheriff plans to request a helicopter rescue by the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.

View from USFS Supervisor's Office in John Day - Parish Cabin Fire
View from USFS Supervisor’s Office in John Day – Parish Cabin Fire. USFS photo.

The fire’s reported at 4,000 acres this morning; roads in the area are closed. Oregon Interagency Incident Management Team 4 (Incident Commander Brian Watts) has been ordered and will transition this evening with the local Type 3 team.

The Blue Mountain Eagle reported that the Forest Service and Grant County Sheriff’s deputies evacuated Lake Creek Youth Camp, Parish Cabin Campground, and many dispersed campsites in the area.

UPDATE 7:12 p.m. PDT:  The Blue Mountain Eagle in John Day reports that the Portland couple are unaccounted for. The sheriff’s department has been in contact with the family, including the man’s brother, a deputy sheriff in Los Angeles County, California. Messages have been left on the couple’s cellphones.

“They’re skilled hikers, and he has some experience with firefighting,” Sheriff Glenn Palmer said.

He said a note was left on the couple’s vehicle, found parked near the High Lake trailhead on the south side of Strawberry Mountain, asking them to call law enforcement. The fire’s about 2.5 miles from the vehicle.

UPDATE 7:22 p.m. PDT:   KEPR-TV reports that the couple has safely got out of the fire area.

Oregon fires update

The 2,000-acre Barry Point Fire southwest of Lakeview, Oregon, is burning on the Fremont-Winema National Forest and private lands. This morning the fire was transitioned to Oregon Incident Management Team 4 (IC Brian Watts).  On Tuesday the Lake County Sheriff’s Department and Forest Service law enforcement notified residents and others in the area that threats from the fire are severe.

Barry Point Fire, 08/07/12  ~  photo by Fred Way
Barry Point Fire, 08/07/12 ~ photo by Fred Way

The fire’s burning in heavy dead and down fuels on steep, rocky terrain. Strong gusty winds, high temperatures, and extremely heavy brush and timber pushed the fire to the north and northeast.

One of Butler’s DC-7 airtankers dropped on the fire, then returned to the Medford tanker base with a bad tire; crews at the base had noted tire pieces on the runway after the tanker left Medford. The pilot of another plane in the air saw that the tire was damaged, and the tire was changed after the tanker returned to Medford.

The Barry Point Fire is threatening the Dog Mountain Lookout, and several road closures are in effect.

The Holloway Fire is at 100,000 acres with just 5 percent containment, with about half the fire in Oregon and the other half in Nevada. The fire’s spread significantly in the northeast and southeast, but the south flank’s been secured. The fire’s threatening communities, critical infrastructure, critical sage grouse habitat, and other natural and cultural resources between McDermitt and Denio, Nevada.

Holloway Fire on the Oregon/Nevada border
Holloway Fire on the Oregon/Nevada border

Chris Ourada’s Great Basin Incident Management Team 6 said the fire’s starting spot fires when it’s burning sagebrush, and crews reported torching, fire whirls, long runs, and extreme fire behavior. Repeatedly shifting winds on the west side have pushed the fire over firelines. Firefighters are working in 100+ temperatures and single-digit humidity.

West of Cove Palisades State Park, the Geneva 12 Fire is burning in juniper, bitterbrush, sage, and grass. It’s 80 percent contained at 1,337 acres, and will transfer bck to the local unit tomorrow. Full containment is expected by this evening. Crews today will mop up smokes and hot spots within 300 feet of containment lines, and rehab is under way. The fire’s on the Crooked River National Grasslands managed by the Ochoco National Forest, private land, and BLM’s Prineville District. Some resources will be released today.

The Lava Fire is north of Christmas Valley, about 15 miles northeast of Fort Rock. It was ignited by lightning on July 23. Improved burning conditions yesterday allowed crews to build perimeter along part of the lava flow border. The fire’s about 50 percent contained at 21,300 acres; it’s been actively backing, with individual tree torching in juniper, grass, and sage.

Tanker 42 drops on the Lava Fire.  Photo by Kevin Abel, Lakeview BLM
Tanker 42 drops on the Lava Fire. Photo by Kevin Abel, Lakeview BLM

Incident managers plan to continue firing along the perimeter until there is a line around the entire fire, keeping the fire from moving out of the lava flow area. It’s in a wilderness study area managed by the BLM’s Lakeview District. Containment’s predicted for August 15.

Large fires in southeast Oregon

Map of Homestead and Long Draw fires
Map of Miller Homestead, Jacks, and Long Draw fires 7-16-2012. ESRI/NIFC/Wildfire Today (Click to enlarge)

Firefighters are starting to get a handle on the large fires in southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho.

The Long Draw Fire north of McDermitt, Nevada has burned 582,313 acres and is 100 percent contained. A transition to a Type 3 Incident Management Team will take place at 6:00 am on Tuesday, July 17.

The Jacks Fire, on BLM land 21 miles southwest of Bruneau, Idaho, is 90 percent contained at 45,000 acres.

The Miller Homestead Fire west of Frenchglen, Oregon is 70 percent contained after burning 162,765 acres. Here are some photos of the fire:

Miller Homestead fire
Miller Homestead fire, Photo by John Britt
Miller Homestead fire, July 14, 2012
Miller Homestead fire, July 14, 2012. Photo by Devon Jones
Miller Homestead fire
Miller Homestead fire, July 10, 2012. Photo by AJ Swartzlender
Miller Homestead fire retardant drops
Retardant drops on the Miller Homestead fire, July 15, 2012. Photo by Mike Stearly

 

Al Qaeda magazine encourages forest fire arson in the US

A magazine published by members of al Qaeda has called for Western Muslims to wage war within the United States, urging them to engage in lone wolf attacks, including setting forest fires. According to ABC News, a recent issue of Inspire magazine has surfaced on jihadi forums with one article titled “It Is of Your Freedom to Ignite a Firebomb”, which gives detailed instructions on how to build an “ember bomb” in a forest in the United States, and suggested Montana as a choice location due to the rapid population growth in forested areas.

In America, there are more houses built in the [countryside] than in the cities. It is difficult to choose a better place [than] in the valleys of Montana.

A previous issue of the magazine contained information on how to construct remote-controlled explosives, and helpfully listed the needed parts along with instructions and photos.

ABC News has been calling around today to find a wildfire expert who can be interviewed on camera for a piece they expect to be on Wednesday’s Good Morning America. One person they called was Dick Mangan, a past President of the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF), but ABC was not able to work out the logistics of quickly getting a camera crew to his house in Montana. The last we heard they found someone in the Sacramento area who works for CAL FIRE.

It’s odd, or maybe that is why ABC contacted Dick, because he wrote an article for the March/April 2005 issue of Wildfire, a magazine published by the IAWF, titled Terrorists in the Woods, about the potential for terrorists to set vegetation fires in wildland areas. In the article he mentioned that police and structural fire departments receive funding for the possibility of terror-related incidents, but the land management agencies receive little or nothing to plan for or prevent threats such as these.

Below is an excerpt from Dick’s 2005 article.

…The massive increases in the federal budget for protection from terrorism mostly have been sent to police and structural fire departments. But what about the threat of terrorist-caused wildland fires in our forests, community watersheds and wildland-urban interface? Who’s worried about that threat, what are they doing about it, and how much is being spent to fund the efforts to prevent it?

The history of fire as a tool of warfare is well-documented: Native Americans used fire against their enemies, both other tribes and the expanding Europeans; the Aboriginal people of Australia used fire to discourage the incursion of the British settlers onto their island. In World War II, the ]apanese launched “fire balloons” against the western United States. While largely unsuccessful, they started a few fires and killed six people in Oregon. The Palestinians in ihe latter half of the 20th century used fire to try to destroy Israel’s carefully planted pine plantations.

Now, as more and more folks are moving into the wildland-urban interface, the danger of fire as a weapon is even greater. Even under the best of circumstances – when a single ignition occurs under critical fire conditions – hundreds and thousands of citizens are threatened with entrapment, injury or death from rapidly spreading fires. Imagine if a small band of determined terrorists, with only some basic fire weather knowledge and fire behavior training decided to set multiple ignitions in some of our most vulnerable areas like heavily populated valley bottoms with limited egress/acceass and a heavy, dry fuel loading at the peak of the burning period?

There are many such areas around the world: in the foothills of Andalusia in Spain; outside of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and in numerous areas of the United States from Florida to the Pine Barrens of New York to the foothills surrounding Los Angeles. Even my own hometown of Missoula, Montana has areas that fit all the above criteria, and is surely at risk under the wrong combination of weather conditions and a committed terrorist with fire on the brain.

We contacted a spokesperson for the IAWF, Paula Nelson, about the reported threat of terrorist-arson, and she responded:

Wildfire threats and terrorist threats cross borders and require us all to be prepared and vigilant. Training and communicating with fellow firefighters, regardless of agency or country, is always worthwhile in improving our capabilities in both arenas. This is a cornerstone for the work IAWF does.