Birch Creek fire

Smoke rises through the trees from the Birch Creek Fire.

Improved weather conditions aided firefighters battling the Birch Creek Fire Tuesday, which is burning on the North Fork John Day Ranger District west of the junctions of Forest Service Road 54 with FSR 5412 and FSR 5411, approximately 12 miles northeast of Ukiah, according to a press release from the Umatilla National Forest. A local Type 3 Incident Management Team led by Incident Commander Steve Meyer took command of the fire Tuesday at 12 p.m.

The Birch Creek Fire was reported on Monday, Sept. 14, and is burning in grass and timber. Local personnel mapped the fire Tuesday and estimate it to be 35 acres. With reduced wind speeds and cooler temperatures, fire behavior was more moderate Tuesday, primarily consisting of backing with some torching and short-range spotting.

The more favorable fire conditions allowed firefighters to aggressively build containment lines around the entire fire perimeter. There are pockets of unburned fuel within the interior of the fire, which may produce smoke as the fire moves through those areas.

Wednesday, firefighters will focus on improving and securing containment lines to reduce the risk of the fire moving outside of the perimeter. Firefighters will also begin hose lay to mop up and cool hot spots adjacent to the line construction. Additionally, heavy equipment is clearing brush and other fuels to create fuel breaks as contingency lines to provide additional protection for private lands to the southwest.

To protect public and firefighter safety, an area and road closure is in effect surrounding the Birch Creek Fire. With increased firefighter traffic and low visibility, the public is asked to avoid the area. The closure includes portions of Forest Service Road 54, FSR 5411 and FSR 5412. A detailed map and description of the closure order is available on the forest website and at any forest office. Closure barriers and signs are posted on the ground and visitors can take alternative routes out of the area including Yellowjacket Road (FSR 5412 and FSR 5420), FSR 54 south to Highway 244 and FSR 5427 east to Indian Lake. Access to the popular area south of Granite Meadows toward Oregon Highway 244 is still available via FSR 5412 and the 030 spur.

The health and safety of the public and wildland fire responders is top priority, and mitigations are being taken regarding group sizes by dispersing firefighting resources through separate and smaller fire camps and conducting virtual meetings when possible.

Current resources assigned to the fire include eight engines, two crews, two dozers and four water tenders.

Weather conditions are expected to remain hot and dry with smoke in the area over the next few days. Isolated thunderstorms are forecast for Thursday, which may also bring rain and increased winds over the fire area.

Fire officials want to remind everyone that the current fire danger rating remains at extreme, and public use restrictions involving campfires, chainsaw use, smoking and off-road travel are in effect.

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