Crews jumping on fire starts in northern Grant County

Smoke blowing in from Washington, Canada and Central Oregon blots out communication towers above John Day Aug. 20.

State and federal crews have responded to several fires in northern Grant County that originated with the Aug. 19-20 lightning storm. A Level 1 awareness notification has been issued for residents in the Monument, Kimberly, Ritter and Dale areas.

Quick action by crews from the Oregon Department of Forestry and Malheur National Forest limited a fire about 9 miles southwest of Fox near Forest Road 3950 to about 55 acres.

The fire was about 15 acres when crews arrived by mid-afternoon Aug. 20 with five engines, two bulldozers and two hand crews. The use of aerial resources was limited by the heavy smoke that blew into the area from Washington and Canada. A sixth engine was called in, and by 6 p.m., the fire was 100 percent lined by bulldozer, according to a Malheur forest press release.

A second fire near Fox was handled by a single ODF crew that had discovered the fire by using a digital lightning-strike map, John Day Unit Forester Ryan Miller said. The one-tenth-acre fire was quickly contained and mopped up, he said.

ODF also assisted the Umatilla National Forest with two fires in Grant County. The Cupper Canyon fire on the Heppner Ranger District about 4 miles northwest of Monument was discovered Aug. 20 about 12:47 p.m.

The 50-acre fire was burning in grass, brush and timber and threatening a structure about half a mile away. Resources responding to the fire included one helicopter, two single-engine air tankers from Grant County Regional Airport, three ODF engines, one ODF hand crew and one Umatilla forest engine.

By Tuesday morning, the fire was mostly lined by bulldozer at about 50 acres, Miller said. Agencies will call in a lot of firefighting resources when a fire threatens a structure, he said.

A larger fire was burning near the Morrow County line about 12 miles north of Monument. The Gilman fire, which was burning grass and timber on Gilman Flats in the Heppner Ranger District, was discovered about 6 p.m. on Monday.

Originally estimated at 1,500 acres, the fire was downsized to about 650 acres by Tuesday morning, Grant County Emergency Management Office coordinator Ted Williams said. Information on the Gilman fire was fairly rough, but it was believed to be a long, skinny fire, Miller said.

About two-thirds of the Gilman fire was on Bureau of Land Management land, which was protected by ODF under an interagency agreement, Miller said. A Type 3 incident command with ODF and Umatilla forest crews was slated to take over the fire on Tuesday.

Residents in Grant County north of Highway 402 and west of Highway 395, including Monument, Kimberly, Ritter and Dale, were given a Level 1 awareness notification, Williams said. Tailored for slow-moving events, the notification is intended to enable people with disabilities or livestock to begin considering plans for leaving in event fire danger increases, he said.

Firefighters were hiking in to a new fire discovered about 2 miles south of Olive Lake in the North Fork John Day Wilderness on the Umatilla forest, about 16 miles west of Sumpter. Thick smoke was preventing aerial resource from responding to the Harrison Fire, but thermal imaging provided an estimated size of 30 acres Tuesday morning, Umatilla forest Public Affairs Officer Darcy Weseman told the Eagle.

Five fires in southern Gilliam County and northern Wheeler County have kept crews busy under a Type 2 incident command.

The Gilliam County Sheriff’s Office issued a Level 3 “Go Now” evacuation notice for parts of the county as the Stubblefield fire grew to 21,000 acres at about 50 percent containment, and the Wheeler County Sheriff’s Office has closed roads near the 36,000-acre, 10-percent contained Jennie’s Peak fire.

Additional thunderstorms are forecast for Wednesday afternoon, and air quality in Eastern Oregon was expected to remain unhealthy through the week, according to a Umatilla forest press release.

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