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High fire danger brings extra resources to High Desert


Heat, wind and chances of thunderstorms this weekend are prompting area fire officials to call extra resources into Central Oregon.

The National Weather Service has issued a fire weather watch for much of the region, starting late Saturday, and a red flag warning for the Deschutes National Forest for scattered thunderstorms and critical fire conditions over the weekend as well.

“We’re bringing in a couple extra water-tenders,” Prineville BLM spokeswoman Lisa Clark said Thursday. “We’re going to bring in an extra helicopter and several type-4 engines that we’ll also bring in from out of the area.”

Those resources will join the region’s other firefighting equipment, some of which have already hit the road.

“We’re pre-positioning engines throughout the greater area,” said Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center Spokesman Patrick Lair. “So we might have some engines in Madras, Sisters, out in the (Maury Mountains.)”

Fire lookout towers have been staffed for awhile, but anticipation of lightning will mean longer hours.

“We’ll bring our resources on earlier, have them stay on later,” said Deschutes National Forest Prevention Technician Heather Fisher.

The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center’s weekly fire outlook says Crook, Jefferson and most of Deschutes Counties are on an elevated fire risk Friday and Saturday.

The biggest factor is anticipated lightning.

“If we get lightning, particularly dry-lightning, there’s a very high likelihood that we’ll get ignitions from those,” Clark said.

On Sunday, the fire-risk grows: NWCC says all three Central Oregon counties will be high risk for fire — they estimate a more than 20 percent chance of large fire starts.

“After the storm clears, we’ll have some planes go up in the sky and start looking for smoke,” Lair said.

Getting initial attack crews out is critical to keeping fires small.

“When a large lightning storm comes through when tend to get 97 to 99 percent of those fires,” Clark said. “But it just one or two get big, then it presents a real challenge for us.”

Firefighting in the areas of Prineville, Crook County and the Ochocos should get easier this summer.

Two Oregon Department of Forestry single-engine air tanker (often referred to as SEAT planes) are arriving at the Prineville Airport next week — the first air resources based out of the area in quite some time.

The Ochoco National Forest also has added more fire-spotting technology to more of its lookouts.

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