Mt. Hood Complex fire grows and grows

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

August 12, 2006

Area: 500 total acres; Bluegrass section has grown to 388 acres.

Cause: multiple lightning strikes

Personnel: 380

Cost: $500,000

Containment: No date has been set.

In past 24 hours crews completed a handline around Gumjuwac section to protect The Dalles watershed.

Highway 35: Closed between White River Sno-Park and Baseline Drive near Parkdale; fire officials will decide Sunday whether to reopen it with ODOT pilot cars on Monday.

Other closures: Campgrounds throughout the area remain closed, along with all trails between the Timberline Trail 600 and Highway 35 Badger Creek Wilderness.

Closures will be updated daily; for details visit the fire team Web site: http:nworegonimt.com

All information from U.S. Forest Service, as of 11 a.m. Friday.

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Since lightning strikes hammered the region Monday evening, the fires on Mount Hood have grown steadily.

Highway 35 between White River Sno-Park and Baseline Drive near Parkdale remains closed indefinitely. The Forest Service has also shut down numerous trail heads, campgrounds, and roads (see sidebar). The Oregon Department of Transportation has workers posted at the roadblocks and law enforcement officials are patrolling the area to keep people out.

The two main fires include a 50-acre blaze at Gumjuwac Saddle south of Lookout Mountain near the Badger Creek Wilderness and a 350-acre fire at Bluegrass Ridge near Sherwood and Nottingham campgrounds along Highway 35. There are several additional smaller fires that have flared up in the area from sleeper fires.

As of Thursday, crews were focusing their efforts on clearing roads for better access to blazes and setting up to construct a dozer line along the Forest Service 620 road. Because part of the fires lie within wilderness areas, the Forest Service is limited in just how much it can use dozers on the fire to cut fire lines. They have also been using tankers to drop retardant. Helicopters are pulling water from Badger Lake for bucket drops.

Crews face difficulty in fighting the fire from the steep terrain and quantity of dry fuels in the area. Fire Information Officer Bernie Pineda said the possibility of large rolling debris because of the slopes and rocky ground prevents hand crews from directly attacking the fire at this time. Mt. Hood Forest Service Ranger Doug Jones said Wednesday that the areas have a large amount of bug-kill trees.

“It’s primarily from mountain pine beetle,” Jones said.

The fires to the west of Highway 35 are burning in a mix of tree types including white pine and lodgepole pine while Gumjuwac Saddle is primarily lodgepole pine.

Carl West, from the Bureau of Land Management’s Salem district office, took the lead as incident commander Wednesday morning. He leads the Northwest Oregon Interagency Management Team, which currently has 370 people on site. The team assesses the fire on how to deploy resources based on several criteria including threats to human life, structures, infrastructure, and critical habitat.

West gave an update Thursday morning during which he said the team’s priorities included the eastern fire’s proximity to The Dalles watershed and protecting campgrounds while providing for firefighter safety.

“Our objective is to get a handline around the wilderness portion,” he said.

West said that crews were preparing for the possibility of a burnout of fuels in the area and working with the Hood River County Sheriff on pre-evacuation plans for residences in the Cooper Spur area.

Sheriff’s deputy Jerry Brown said Friday morning that although winds were strong overnight, the fire held in place and did not spread toward Cooper Spur.

“We’re in good shape as it did not burn that mile to mile and a half north that we were expecting,” he said.

Among the firefighters on the blaze are several hotshot crews that West said will be invaluable to help in the rugged terrain.

“We’re still short four or five (hotshot crews) and we need a few more helicopters,” he said.

He said the closure of Troutdale Airport to air tankers is not affecting the Forest Service’s ability to fight this fire. Tankers are being deployed from Redmond, Ore.

West said the evacuation would only be triggered if the fire advances and makes a sustained run through fuels. If the fire moves to that stage, Parkdale Rural Fire Protection District will be brought in to defend structures.

The Dalles Public Works Director Brian Stahl issued a press release Thursday evening detailing the plans to protect the city’s water supply if the fire enters the Dog River drainage.

He said, “Should firefighting in The Dalles watershed be necessary, the City will isolate Dog River’s connection with Crow Creek Dam to allow the Forest Service to use all assets including retardant drops to contain and control the fire.”

Stahl said to preserve stored water that public utilities would reduce outflow from Crow Creek Dam and increase pumping from the city’s well field.

Fire information officer Paul Norman, of the Sandy Forest Service District, said Wednesday that the damage to the watershed could come from the loss of protective cover due to the fire and an increase in silt in the system.

The fire team has based their operations at Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort. Following containment of the fires, the Forest Service will bring in a long-term analysis team to study the effect of the burns on the wilderness areas.

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