North winds brought smoke from wildfires burning in Washington and Canada to Grant County this week, blocking the mountains and posing health hazards to the public. Sunday night lightning also started fires locally, and smoke blew in from fires in Central Oregon south of Condon.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued an air quality advisory for Central and Eastern Oregon Monday. The advisory, which was expected to last until Thursday, includes Grant and 14 other Oregon counties.
The DEQ ranked air quality as unhealthy in downtown John Day with a score of 172 on the PM 2.5 index for fine particles in the atmosphere. The air in Baker City was also ranked as unhealthy with a score of 182, and Burns was ranked unhealthy for sensitive groups with a score of 101.
Malheur National Forest crews responded Monday to a 15-acre fire 9 miles southwest of Fox. Aerial resources were limited by the smoke, but five engines, two bulldozers and two hand crews were engaging the fires.
The Bureau of Land Management sent a Type 2 incident management team to oversee several fires in southern Gilliam County and northern Wheeler County. The team will set up base at the Gilliam County Fairgrounds.
The Stubblefield, Seale, Buckhorn and Jennie’s Peak fires had grown from 16,700 acres on Sunday to 30,500 acres by Monday with about 20 percent containment and 119 firefighters on the scene, according to the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office.
Gilliam County Sheriff Gary Bettencourt issued a Level 1 “Be Ready” notification for parts of the county. He urged people to avoid those areas and not get in the way of fire crews and vehicles.
The State Fire Marshal’s Blue Team ordered in three task forces from Linn, Polk and Clatsop counties to help crews protect homes across southern Gilliam County.
Cooler weather Sunday night enabled firefighters to get ahead of some fires. Crews planned to focus on holding and improving existing containment lines, but they would be challenged by steep slopes along the John Day River and afternoon winds.
A task force was sent to the Jennie’s Peak fire, about 20 miles north of Mitchell, to assist with structural protection on about 20 homes in the area. The fire had grown to about 18,000 acres by Monday, and firefighters conducted burn-out operations on the north side of the John Day River to prevent the fire’s spread.
A number of smaller fires in southern Gilliam County near Fossil, Lone Rock and Condon were being handled by the Oregon Department of Forestry as the Kinzua Complex, John Day Unit Forester Ryan Miller told the Eagle.
ODF had put together a Type 3 group to combat the seven fires, which had grown to more than 600 acres since they began last week. Miller said the situation looked positive, with bulldozer lines around some fires, some being mopped up and 50 percent containment overall.
“The largest was about 420 acres,” Miller said.