Aided by wind and heavy fuel, Dollar Lake Fire lights up the sky

August 31, 2011

An ominous orange light filled the southern sky Monday night. The skyscraper plume of smoke made for a pretty sunset, and the soft glow looked like a nightlight plugged into Mount Hood.

There's fire on the mountain, again.

The Dollar Lake Fire, estimated at about 1,500 acres as of early Tuesday morning, is burning in areas of high-density fuel on the north side of Mount Hood. The type-II Northwest Oregon Interagency Incident Management Team took charge of the fire Tuesday and is dispersing 13 crews to battle the blaze, burning in both national forest and wilderness area.

The lightning-caused fire started Friday night in a remote area south of Laurance Lake. On Saturday the fire was assessed at just a few acres. Thunderstorms Sunday night centered over the fire and brought high winds, which turned the small incident into a major concern by the next morning. Sustained west winds in the 30-mph range throughout Monday fanned the flames even more, and the fire was estimated to have tripled in size by the end of the day.

With high winds, heavy smoke and limited resources, firefighting Monday was limited. But with the management team in place, resources on scene, clouds overhead and hot weather forecasted for the weekend, crews will work over the next couple of days to make as much progress as possible.

A spokeswoman for the management team said firefighting efforts will be focused on the north and east sides of the fire and structures in the Cooper Spur area are not directly threatened at the moment. No evacuation orders had been made, but as a preventative measure the historic Cloud Cap Inn was being wrapped in a protective foil.

Resembling the 2008 Gnarl Ridge Fire that was caused by lightning in late August, the Dollar Lake Fire is burning in thick timber and high-density dead and down materials. Paired with upslope winds in the morning, downslope winds in the evening, regular strong winds throughout the day and often difficult terrain hampering efforts on the ground, large fires in the area are extremely difficult to put an end to quickly.

The Gnarl Ridge Fire wasn't fully out until autumn brought heavy rain and snow to the area.

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