DETROIT — Moderate weather — with temperatures dropping from triple digits into the low 90s during the day and 60s in the early morning hours — has given the 661 firefighters and support team members a leg up on the Whitewater fire in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness area about 13 miles east of Detroit.
The fire is believed to have been started in June by lightning, but was not reported until late July when it was spotted and reported by passengers in an airplane flying over the area.
The fire grew to 160 acres and then exploded to 1,500 acres and then 5,600 acres, where it has held steady in recent days, according to a report from the Willamette National Forest.
Linn County Commissioner Will Tucker has been acting as a liaison between the fire’s Incident Command Center and the county Board of Commissioners. He said two water scooping airplanes provided support for the land-based crews Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, but due to smoky conditions have been pulled off the fire.
“It hasn’t moved much, maybe a few acres,” Tucker said Wednesday morning. “The Chinook helicopters are still working and the incident commander based at Hoodoo said he is getting strong support as needed.”
But Tucker is concerned that another fire has started in the Willamette National Forest, and depending on its growth pattern, may draw resources from the Whitewater fire.
The new blaze, the Rebel fire, is about 200 acres in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area. The fire is in steep terrain and thick fuel. As of Wednesday, the fire is considered zero percent contained.
There are 17 crews, six helicopters, eight masticators, 19 engines, 11 water tenders and nine dozers on scene for the Whitewater fire.
On Wednesday, fire crews were preparing forest roads west of the fire to act as firebreaks. The Forest Service reported the roads are from one-quarter of a mile to one mile from the fire’s edge. Forest officials said the roads serve as firebreaks and provide firefighters with access for crews, engines and hose lays. They also make good escape routes for the firefighters.
Officials were also considering setting off backfires to remove vegetation and downed woody fuels between the Whitewater fire’s edge and the firebreaks.
Weather conditions are expected to see daily highs from 82 to 90 degrees, with 16 to 25 percent humidity. Wind speeds are expected to be below 10 mph from the northeast.
Fire officials were concerned about the possibility of thunderstorms moving into the region, which could bring strong winds with them.
Although smoke is heavy at times throughout the mid-valley, the communities of Detroit, Marion Forks and Idanha are experiencing the worst air conditions.
All trail access points remain closed into Jefferson Park, including the Pacific Crest Trail.
The following trailheads are closed in the Willamette National Forest: Bingham Ridge, Minto Mountain, Pamelia Lake, Woodpecker Ridge, Whitewater Ridge, Whitewater Creek, Cheat Creek, Triangulation Peak, Leone Lake, South Breitenbush and Crown Lake.
Trailheads closed in the Deschutes National Forest are Bear Valley/Rockpile Lake, Cabot Lake, Jefferson Lake and Brush Creek.