Nena Springs and Whitewater Fires are within Oregon’s total eclipse area

Above: Map showing the approximate, not exact, locations of the Nena Springs and Whitewater Fires within the eclipse path of totality. August 19, 2017.

(Updated at 6:29 p.m. PDT August 19, 2017)

Two large Central Oregon wildfires are inside the path of totality (POT) for Monday’s eclipse — the 7,500-acre Whitewater Fire 6 miles east of Idanha and the 66,000-acre Nena Springs Fire 14 miles north of Madras.

The Nena Springs Fire was very active on Thursday and Friday, adding another 19,000 acres. A large airtanker was used Friday evening to strategically place a line of retardant along a ridgeline where the fire crossed the Warm Springs River. The fire ran less than a half mile before this action effectively stopped the run. Two Bureau of Land Management engines also successfully extinguished a fire that had grown to ¼ acre across the Deschutes River.

Ten structures have been destroyed on the Nena Springs Fire.

Whitewater Fire
Whitewater Fire, 6 miles east of Idanha, Oregon. August 19, 2017.

The Whitewater Fire a mile east of Highway 22 is actively burning near the Whitewater Trailhead in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness east of Detroit. On Friday firefighters conducted both hand and aerial firing operations to reinforce the southwest control lines. On Saturday crews will construct more control lines and continue planned tactical hand and aerial firing operations.

There are no reports of major highways being closed due to the wildfire activity in Oregon except for Oregon Highway 242, near the Milli Fire, which remains closed from Sisters west to Hwy 126. The Milli Fire is just outside the eclipse path of totality.

Satellite photo wildfires in Oregon Northwest California
Satellite photo of wildfires in Oregon and Northwest California, August 19, 2017.

Milli Fire mapped at 7,800 acres southwest of Sisters, Oregon

Above: An air tanker maneuvers over the Milli Fire, August 18, 2017. Photo by Tommy Schroeder, PIO.

(Updated at 6:32 p.m. PDT August 19, 2017.)

The Milli Fire in Central Oregon was very active Thursday and Friday spreading to the east, growing to 7,800 acres. Friday night it was 4 miles southwest of Sisters and 16 miles northwest of Bend.

Strong winds Friday afternoon led to a spot fire across a containment line, pushing the fire 2 to 3 miles southeast toward the city of Sisters. The run triggered evacuations affecting approximately 600 people.

Map of the Milli Fire
3-D map of the Milli Fire looking southwest at 11:45 p.m. PDT August 18, 2017.

Crews overnight worked to build a direct line on the leading edge of the fire, with engine crews patrolling the area and dozer crews constructing fireline. Temperatures today (Saturday) are expected to be a few degrees cooler with higher humidity. However, the winds that pushed the fire on Friday will be back, with gusts up to 22 miles an hour, from around 10 am to 9 pm. Temperatures should range from 70 – 75 degrees, with humidity ranging from 22 to 26%.

The wind could cause more spot fires to develop and firefighters will be actively identifying them and containing them where possible. Also, today firefighters will be working to contain the area where the fire extended yesterday and will be constructing new containment lines between the fire’s edge and the communities that are threatened.

Engine task forces from the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office will be working in the evacuated neighborhoods, treating spaces around homes to provide better defensible space.

Aviation resources have been very important in fighting this fire. Three air tankers and one VLAT (very large air tanker) have been making repeated drops of fire retardant, creating fire lines and assisting our crews in inaccessible areas.

Oregon Highway 242 remains closed from Sisters west to Hwy 126. There are no reports of structures being destroyed in the fire.

The fire is just south of the eclipse path of totality. Highway 20 between Bend and Sisters is still open, but if it closes it could have an impact on eclipse viewers.

Map of the Milli Fire
Map of the Milli Fire at 11:45 p.m. PDT August 18, 2017.

Satellite photo wildfires in Oregon Northwest California
Satellite photo of wildfires in Oregon and Northwest California, August 19, 2017.

Firefighters make preparations for the eclipse

Above: The path of eclipse totality in Oregon and Idaho on August 21, showing the locations of large wildfires that were active August 18, 2017.

(Revised at 9:08 a.m. MDT August 19, 2017)

Most of the wildland firefighters that will be deployed on wildfires Monday August 21 will have never seen a solar eclipse, or especially a total eclipse that will be seen in parts of Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska and other states. We began to wonder what fire organizations will do when in the middle of the day they are plunged into nighttime conditions.

It will be dark for up to 2.5 minutes in the path of totality (POT) but outside that track and immediately before and after the total eclipse within the track there will be plenty of light. So the actual physical effect for ground-based firefighters will be minimal.

However, as Traci Weaver, Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Region told us, the event will likely be a once in a lifetime event for most of the firefighters and will be extremely distracting, at least. Firefighters will be asked to take a break during the totality and cautioned against being near snags or slopes that could have rolling rocks.

solar eclipse in France in 1999
Total solar eclipse in France in 1999. Luc Viatour

The USFS Pacific Northwest Region, known as Region 6, includes Oregon, and the 60-mile wide path of totally will pass all the way across the state. It will include or almost include at least four large active fires, Nena Springs (46,000 acres), Whitewater (6,791), Whychus (2030), and Milli (4,565).

Region 6 did not just start thinking about the eclipse this week. They have been planning for a year on how to handle it safely. Five Central Oregon counties held a tabletop exercise that involved not only firefighters but law enforcement, hospitals, the Department of Transportation, and other agencies.

The Whitewater Fire, Ms. Weaver said, has established an Eclipse Branch. Remote spike camps on fires will have enough supplies to be self-sufficient for at least four days.

The normal tourist season combined with a busy firefighting environment and eclipse watchers flocking in from distant locations could mean ground and air traffic and logistics on fires will be affected.

A briefing paper distributed by R-6 included this analysis: Continue reading “Firefighters make preparations for the eclipse”