GF Complex fires lay low

Unseasonal weather gives crews the upper hand on 11,221-acre Blackburn Fire

A weekend of cool, wet weather and calmer-than-expected winds have gone a long way toward helping fire crews make progress on extinguishing the 11,221-acre Blackburn Fire burning several miles southwest of The Dalles.

The Blackburn Fire is part of an 11,516-acre blaze known as the Government Flats Complex, which started via lightning strike Aug. 16 and consumed four homes and nine outbuildings. The other two fires in the complex have been contained for over a week.

After nearly a week of growth at a rate of almost 1,700 acres a day, the Blackburn Fire slowed dramatically over the weekend thanks to a desperately needed helping hand from Mother Nature. Fire growth has been negligible as of late as firefighters concentrate on tightening up fire lines on the west and northwest perimeters while performing mop-up work on the east, south, and north sides of the fire. As of Tuesday morning, containment was listed at 55 percent.

All evacuations were lifted Monday night, with the exception of closures in the Mt. Hood National Forest. A new closure was put in place Tuesday morning around the fire perimeter as well as all U.S. Forest Service roads leading into the fire area. The closure area includes all Forest Service lands east of F.S. Road 1700 and north of F.S. Road 1720 as well as all lands with The Dalles Watershed.

Fire crews have begun to demobilize from the scene as fire activity decreases and containment improves. At its peak, nearly 1,100 personnel had been assigned to the fire, but as of Tuesday morning, that number had decreased to 789. Thankfully, no one has been injured by the wildfires thus far, with the exception of one firefighter who fell from a fire truck and injured his back.

The fire was declared a state conflagration by Governor John Kitzhaber the evening of Aug. 17 and became eligible for the recoupment of firefighting costs through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA eligibility ended Monday night. As of Tuesday morning, total fire costs had risen to just over $11 million.

The wet weather has helped increase the relative humidity levels of fire fuels in the area, for now. The weather is expected to return to more seasonal conditions this week, which will cause fuels to dry out once again. Fire crews will continue mop-up work this week, particularly in the interior of the fire area, as well as looking for spot fires along and outside the fire’s perimeter. No expected full-containment date has been listed, but the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Incident Management Team 3 will remain at the scene until the fire is fully controlled.

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