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Fire NW of Madras at 400 acres, 20 pct. contained


(Update: Willow Fire at 400 acres; 20 percent contained; Pelton Park Campground evacuated)

A wildfire that broke out on BLM land near Lake Simtustus northwest of Madras on Friday, grew to an estimated 400 acres by late Saturday, as a campground and surrounding area were evacuated, but crews also had it 20 percent contained, officials said.

The BLM was in unified command with Jefferson County to manage the Willow Fire, burning south of Pelton Dam and Willow Canyon, about six miles northwest of Madras.

Steep terrain, rolling rocks and heavy fuels are challenging crews. Helicopters cooled hot spots Saturday as hotshots worked to put in containment lines on the north and east perimeters of the fire.

Pelton Park Campground is under a Level 3 (Go Now) evacuation, as is the surrounding area and Northwest Pelton Dam Road. A Level 1 pre-evacuation alert remained in place for residents along Elk Drive, which was closed to the public.

Heavy and single-engine air tankers and a heavy helicopter were assisting firefighters on the ground. A regional structure-protection task force was protecting several homes in the area.

There were three crews on the Willow Fire on Saturday, along with three helicopters, an air attack plane, 11 engines and a bulldozer, for a total of 98 personnel, officials said.

“The fire climbed up the canyon from Lake Simtustus to the top at Elk Drive and burned to the east all the way to Dry Canyon,” Undersheriff Marc Heckathorn said in an update Saturday morning on the sheriff’s office Facebook page.

“The fire did not jump Willow Creek and all fire activity remains on the south side of Willow Creek Canyon,” he added.

The undersheriff noted somewhat favorable conditions Saturday, with highs in the low 80s and light winds.

Heckathorn said NW Elk Drive was closed south of the fire and NW Pelton Dam Road north of the fire. Lake Simtustus is open, he said, but the road is closed south of Pelton Park Campground, meaning the only access to the lake is off Highway 26.

Central Oregon Fire Management Service crews responded to the Willow Fire, reported around 5:45 p.m. Friday on Prineville District BLM-managed land; get the latest on the agency’s Twitter feed.

Heavy air tankers that had been helping fight the Tepee Fire 10 miles southeast of Bend, were diverted to help battle the new blaze, Forest Service spokesman Kassidy Kern said. They were joined by single-engine air tankers and a heavy helicopter, assisting firefighters on the ground.

Officials said the fire was actively burning in light fuels and torching juniper trees. Like the new Tepee Fire southeast of Bend, it was deemed human-caused and under investigation.

Elk Drive, which leads to Lake Simtustus, was closed by Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies to all but homeowners due to the fire, Heckathorn said Friday night.

Fortunately, strong winds were pushing the fire to the east — away from the homes — but two mutual-aid task forces of Central Oregon firefighters were called up to help fight the blaze and protect homes in the area, in case the wind shifts before enough resources are in place, the undersheriff said.

Heckathorn said the fire did not begin in a campground or near any homes, but while the cause was unknown, the blaze began in and climbed up a steep canyon and is “highly suspicious.”

Just before 9 p.m. came word of another small fire that broke out near Highway 26 and the Rainbow Market, just south of Warm Springs and the Deschutes River. Jefferson County fire dispatchers said crews on scene had stopped the forward progress of that blaze. Sgt. Ryan Grote said the fire was only about 20 to 30 feet in diameter and was out before he arrived.

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