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Post-fire cleanup in full swing on McKenzie Pass Highway


Crews are working to clean up the McKenzie Pass Highway after the Milli Fire burned through the area.

For the past three weeks, the Deschutes National Forest has had crews out clearing potentially dangerous trees from the side of the highway.

Steven Orange, with the Deschutes National Forest, is overseeing the tree removal process.

He and his crews have been working many 12-hour days during the past three weeks to get the trees cleared out.

“We had a lot of trees, especially on the side of the road, and we didn’t feel that it was safe for those trees to stay up there,” Orange said Thursday. “We noticed the potential to roll down onto the highway. Those were the ones we’re really focusing on removing.”

The crew hopes to wrap up tree removal Friday, so the next phase of cleanup can begin.

Amy Tinderholt, acting ranger fo the Sisters Ranger District, said they will assess the area and allow for it to grow back naturally first.

“Most of these areas will rehab naturally. We will keep our eyes on the steep slopes for erosion control,” Tinderholt said. “We’ll also consider coming back and replanting some of these areas.”

Fire management teams are still out clearing piles of trees and burned shrubs after the 24,079-acre fire has been contained.

Cascade Division Fire Management Officer James Osborne said his crews will begin burning the piles once conditions are better to do so.

“There will be some large piles up there for the foreseeable future,” Osborne said. “And we will take care of those piles once they get to a state where we can burn them and have them consumed properly.”

Osborne said it is more cost-effective to burn the piles rather then to haul them out of the forest.

The highway is still not open and, according to Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Peter Murphy, it isn’t expected to open before the winter weather hits.

ODOT is assessing the ground surrounding the road and trying to learn more about the impact the unstable ground may have.

“We have to kind of examine it to determine whether any type of treatment can be done, if any, to make sure that all that dirt that is now exposed on the hillside doesn’t come down onto the highway itself,” Murphy said.

The highway should be open to those who use it for winter recreation, and the department hopes to have it open again for motorists next spring.

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