(Update: Adding video, comment from U.S.F.S. officials)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- More than a month after lightning started nearly two dozen fires on the Willamette National Forest, their smoky impact is still being felt here in Central Oregon.
And they could stick around for quite a while longer.
U.S. Forest Service Fire Behavior Analyst Katie Hetts told NewsChannel 21 on Monday, "It's really going to take weather to put this fire out.”
Many of the fires in the Middle Fork Complex have been fully contained since they were discovered on July 29.
U.S. Forest Service Public information officer Madeline Herrmann said, "Now there are two, we started out with somewhere between 20 or 22 fires."
The Gales and Kwis fires remain from the Middle Fork Complex, north of Oakridge, but the larger Gales fire is only 12 percent contained.
Hetts said the terrain is making things difficult.
"Deep river canyons and very steep terrain,” she said. “All of which have very large-sized trees on them."
While the Kwis Fire is nearing full containment, Hetts said they need some sort of weather event to contain the 23,000+ acre Gales Fire.
Until then, Central Oregon is going to be left with smoke, unless the wind shifts dramatically.
Other fires south of the Middle Fork Complex are contributing to the smoke, and even several large fires in Northern California are making an impact.
Forest Service Air Resource Advisor Jill Webster said, "Unfortunately, I think you're looking at a lot of on-again, off-again smoke until the fires stop actively burning, or burning to the point where they are putting up enough smoke to impact air quality."
Webster added that a high-pressure system and a lack of wind are to blame for our smoky skies.
Some of the added smoke is coming from suppression efforts
"One of the ways we use to contain the fire is to fight fire with fire with firing operations, burnout operations," Hetts said.
As those become more successful, Hetts said, she hopes containment numbers will start going up.
Below are the Monday morning updates from the Middle Fork Complex and the Bull Complex burning north of Detroit:
Middle Fork Complex Update for Monday, Sept 6
Northwest Incident Management Team 6
Shawn Sheldon, Incident Commander
Phone: 425-324-1267 (8am – 8pm)
Origin/Location: North of Oakridge, OR
Gales: 23,358 acres and 12% contained Date/Time Detected: July 29, 2021, 2:00 p.m.
Kwis: 1,485 acres and 98% contained Number of Personnel: 686
Total: 24,930 acres and 20% contained Cause: Lightning
Westfir, OR – Many snags and smoky conditions make direct fire attack unsafe in steep terrain. Primary and secondary line on the Gales Fire is being built and strengthened as close as possible to the fire to provide for firefighter safety. The highest priority for strategically burning from constructed hand and dozer line with the most personnel is located on the 1825 Road near Nevergo Creek; crews are working night and day shifts to take advantage of current conditions. On the northeastern flank of the fire down to Delp Creek, line is being constructed along the 1846 Road starting from the prior strategic burning operations near Buzzard Creek. Firefighters are preparing for heightened fire behavior to come through on Tuesday afternoon.
On the Kwis Fire, an engine crew continues diligent work to break up and put out all remaining burning material near the fire perimeter. “Every once in a while, we find a stump hole burning,” said Field Operations Chief Ryan Sullivan.
Weather: Sunday was warm and dry, but thanks to some coastal moisture and atmospheric stability, fire behavior was moderate. Nighttime conditions brought slightly higher humidity this morning, with temperatures in the upper 70s to mid 80s. The stagnant, stable air will make for a smokey day and poor flight conditions for helicopters. On Tuesday, we expect to see low humidity, high temps, and gusts up to 18 mph later in the day, with possible thunderstorms east of the Cascades. Heightened fire behavior on Gales Fire is likely. Beginning Wednesday, cooler temperatures will continue into the weekend along with favorable firefighting weather.
Smoke: No break is expected in the Hazardous air quality for areas surrounding the fire: including McKenzie Bridge, Bend, and La Pine. Relief should be coming tomorrow into Wednesday. Eugene will have worsening air quality today and tomorrow, as the smoke that has typically been creeping in mid-day may stick around. For more information, visit oregonsmoke.blogspot.com.
Safety: Fire restrictions and closures are one of the most effective tools that land management agencies can use to reduce the risk of human-caused wildfires during periods of high or extreme fire danger. Currently, charcoal and wood fires are prohibited on most Oregon Department of Forestry, Bureau of Land Management, and Forest service lands in Oregon. Outdoor burning is also prohibited in private land in Lane County. Learn more about public land campfire restrictions at blm.gov/orwafire.
Closures: Some National Forest land is temporarily closed due to the Middle Fork Complex. Highway 58 remains open. Check fs.usda.gov/alerts/willamette/alerts-notices for the most up-to- date information.
Bull Complex Factsheet for September 6, 2021
https://www.facebook.com/willamettenf Twitter: https://twitter.com/mthoodnf
Cause: Lightning Size: 16,724 acres Containment: 7 percent Personnel: 571
Incident Command: Type 2 Northern Rockies Incident Management Team 4, Rick Connell, Incident Commander
Current Status: The fire remained active in the Battle Creek, Mother Lode, and Welcome Creek drainages along the western and northwestern sides of the fire. Fire activity is primarily fuels and slope driven which means that the movement of the fire is occurring on the ground through the woody material and debris with occasional group tree torching and uphill runs or side slope movement. Smoke obscured visibility on the north side of the fire yesterday so aviation use was limited. Firefighters patrolled the northeastern side of the fire and the containment line located near the confluence of the Collawash River and Elk Lake Creek. Crews also worked on indirect lines along road systems to the north. The eastern fire line is holding following the tactical burning operation conducted over the past several days. Firefighters mopped up and patrolled the line while watching the opposite side of the 6350 road for any spot fires. Two spot fires were discovered to the east and firefighters responded to suppress them. Fire crews along the south side monitored fire activity on the ridge between Battle Creek and Elk Lake Creek and conducted small tactical burning operations to even the line and keep up with the fire edge near the 4696 road.
Planned Actions: The wind is expected to shift to the north and will clear out the smoke on the north side of the fire today. Helicopters will continue to be used to slow fire spread in key areas on the northwest part of the fire and in other areas as necessary. Preparation work will be done along road systems that will be used as indirect lines. Fire activity on the ridge above East Humbug Creek will continue to be monitored while additional hose lines and pumps are installed on the road system. Crews will construct a line around the one-acre spot fire and mop up as necessary along the eastern side of the fire. Due to the expected wind shift the fire is expected to be active on the south and southeast sides when the temperature inversion lifts. Smoke is expected throughout the day because the vegetation and fuels are very dry.
The weather will be warmer and drier with temperatures in the mid 80s, humidity levels in the upper 20% to lower 30% range, and winds out of the southwest from 3-8 mph switching to the West and then North/Northwest later in the day. A change is still forecasted for cooler and cloudier weather beginning on Wednesday.
Evacuations: The Marion County Sheriff has issued a Level 1 “Be Ready” evacuation advisory only for Breitenbush Hot Springs. Residents should be aware of the danger that exists in their area, monitor emergency services websites and local media, and make an action plan should the evacuation level rise. The advisory can be viewed at: https://www.flashalert.net/id/MarionSheriff?alert=1.
Closures: For the safety of wildland firefighters and the public, the National Forests have enacted area closures that prevent the public from being upon National Forest System lands in the vicinity of the Bull Complex where uncontrolled fire and fire suppression activities are occurring. All Forest lands that are south and west of Forest Road 46, and east of the Riverside Fire perimeter are closed. The entire length of Forest Road 46 is closed. Lands within the 2020 Lionshead and Beachie Creek Fire areas are also closed. See the closure orders and maps at https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/closures/7773/.
Contractors approved by the Forest Service through a permit system are allowed through the closure order, as are vendors and others working on recovery efforts related to the 2020 area fires. If the fire continues to grow to the south, some operations may be put on hold.
Primary and Cooperating Agencies: U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Department of Forestry, Bureau of Land Management, Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.