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Oregon wildfires have cost plenty in firefighting efforts; nearly 30,000-acre Flat Fire tops list at $32 million so far

(Update: Adding video, comments from U.S. Forest Service)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Flat Fire in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest of southwest Oregon has burned nearly 30,000 acres since it started back on July 15th. And it's been a costly fight to contain it.

This year, people have caused four times as many fires as lightning has -- again, so far (a Red Flag Warning is out for lightning and storms in the region the next few days).

Jaimie Olle, Public Affairs Specialist for the Deschutes National Forest, told us Wednesday: "Across Central Oregon, we've seen 117 human-caused starts in comparison to 30 lightning-caused starts. That's a significant number of human-caused starts, when you look at that total."

The acreage burned so far locally has been a different story -- 2,959 acres from human-caused starts and 3,308 acres from lightning-sparked fires.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center's daily Situation Report on Wednesday, the Flat Fire, Oregon's largest wildfire so far this busy season, has cost $31.9 million to fight so far. Over 1,400 personnel are currently battling the flames, with 28% containment as of Wednesday morning.

"This is a great time for the public to help our firefighters out by remembering public use restrictions are in effect" Olle said. "And any time they can prevent a human-caused start, that saves time for our wildland firefighters, and they can focus on those lightning-caused starts."

Paying personnel takes the most money in a firefight.

More than 1,400 people are working on the Flat Fire, with 31 crews, 39 fire engines and 24 water tenders on hand.

Most of the smoke Central Oregon has been experiencing over the last couple of weeks is from the Bedrock Fire. That fire has burned more than 11,000 acres in the Willamette National Forest, and has cost $9.4 million to fight so far.

"Additionally, if we have an incident that starts near a community, we'll likely send a large number of resources to that incident in comparison to something that starts a little bit further out and away from town" Olle explained.

The Golden Fire, located 9 miles north of Bonanza in Klamath County, has burned over 2,100 acres.

A total of 91 personnel are fighting it with over $8.3 million spent.

"The resources that are responding to an incident are typically responding to the initial size of it" Olle explained. "So we might get a report from one of our lookouts or a member of the public who could help and give us a determination on potential size and potentially the rapid spread they might be seeing."

The majority of the money used to fight wildfires on federal lands comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as well as a FMAG (Fire Management Assistance Grant) awarded to the state last month.

A few other small fires in Oregon, such as the Grade and Corbie fires, have cost more than a combined $1 million in fire personnel on hand.

Other fires, including Bedrock, Eagle Bluff and Golden, are currently standing at $9.4M, $1.9M and $8.3M in firefighting costsm respectively.

Here's the Wednesday morning update on the Flat Fire - more info at this Facebook page:

Size: 29,387 acres                                            Start Date:  July 15, 2023 

Point of origin: 2 miles southeast of Agness, OR 

Containment: 28% 

Cause: Human caused 

Total personnel: 1,419 

Resources: 39 engines l 31 crews l 2 bulldozers l 24 water tenders l 4 masticators l 

9 helicopters   

Current Situation:  Helicopters again used aerial ignition to achieve additional depth from the containment line further into the unburned interior near Game Lake, as well as in the SW corner of the fire in the Lawson Creek drainage, to fire off ridges and burnout down slopes to work towards containment in this area. This strategy heads off the main fire toward the prepared fire line under more favorable and controlled conditions.  Firefighters directed helicopter bucket drops of water on areas of increased heat interior to the containment line along the northeast (down into the north fork of Indigo Creek) and along a portion of the eastern fire perimeter. These actions helped to hold and secure the existing containment line and check fire spread respectively in those areas.  

Yesterday, crews located and quickly contained six (6) small spot fires just off Forest System Road (FSR) 401 as firelines were tested by localized winds.  Un-crewed Aerial Systems (UAS/drones) detected and directed firefighters to the precise spot locations enabling rapid containment.  Night-shift resources held and patrolled fireline. 

Structure protection resources continue scouting for and identifying additional homes and buildings and are collecting data to aid firefighters in protecting structures if there is a future need.  The alternate control line on FSR 3313, 1503, and 3680 is nearing completion. 

Today’s activities:  Firefighters plan to use aerial resources to gain additional fireline depth between the western and eastern portions of FSR 3680 in the Lawson Creek drainage (southwestern corner of the fire).  Aerial interior burning will also continue in the Game Lake area as time and conditions allow.  Fuels removal started yesterday and will continue today from vegetation cut in preparing fireline along the western containment lines. The western and northern containment lines, from the junction of FSR 3680 and 3318 to Wildhorse Lookout east to FSR 3577, is being actively mopped up and patrolled.  The northeastern corner of the fire, using FSR 2308 and 150, has been fully prepared for firing operations if the need arises due to changes in weather conditions and/or fire activity, or if the fire outpaces current checking actions by aircraft. 

An Oregon National Guard helicopter has been moved to Medford temporarily and is available for any medical assistance needs, day or night. 

With fire traffic on Bear Camp Road, all motorists on Bear Camp Road are asked to slow down, use headlights and proceed with caution. 

Evacuations:  All remaining evacuation levels are now at Level 1 “Get Ready” evacuation status for all areas in the vicinity of the Flat Fire.  

The Curry County Sheriff’s Office will continue to coordinate with the Fire Incident Management Team and will notify all residents affected by the fire of any reasons to change evacuation levels.  

Curry County is using Everbridge to send evacuation notices.  You can sign up for notifications here:

Weather: Today’s forecast calls for slightly cooler temperatures (down 1-3 degrees) and higher relative humidity (up 1-3%). The up and down weather cycle we have been experiencing has moderated fire behavior but overall fuels are continuing to dry. A warmer and drier air mass is predicted to return later in the week. 

Smoke:  The Smoke Outlook is available at: 

Closures:  The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has issued a closure order for the fire area including trails, roads and a portion of the Illinois River. Oak Flat Campground, Game Lake and Wild Horse Campgrounds and Snow Camp Lookout Recreation Rentals are all closed as part of the area closure.  The Chetco River Road (FSR 1376) and Chetco/Pistol River Road (FSR 1407) are now closed.  The updated closure allows for public access to the Big Rock swimming hole on the Illinois River.  More information can be found here:  

Restrictions: Fire Restrictions are in place, to learn more visit: Local fuel conditions are variable with fuels dry in some areas but still green vegetation in others. Fire conditions are currently at the “Extreme” level and weather conditions continue to get hotter and drier. 

Please follow all fire restrictions and only use properly functioning spark arresters and stay on designated trails and roads. Do not park, idle or drive on dry, flammable vegetation. Your vehicle could start a wildfire. 

Article Topic Follows: Fire Alert

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Blake Mayfield

Blake Mayfield is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Blake here.


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