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Firefighters make progress on Shaniko Butte Fire and near Maupin

Shaniko Butte Fire, July 2014

Shaniko Butte Fire, July 2014

Firefighting authorities Saturday morning reported good progress and 20 percent containment on the Shaniko Butte fire burning 15 miles north of Shaniko and near Maupin, according to Inciweb reports.

New estimates this morning put fire size at 27,000 acres, though the change from Friday’s 25,000 may be due at least in part to new aerial surveys that were scheduled Friday.

“After holding the west line of the fire near the community of Simnasho for two full days, some firefighting resources were reassigned to other parts of the fire,” authorities reported Saturday morning. “Warm Springs tribal authorities have dropped the Level 2 (get set) notification for homes on the 300 road to a Level 1 (get ready) notification, meaning residents can relax a little from their readiness to leave at a moment’s notice, but they still need to be aware of the nearby fire threat.”

A hotshot team worked through Thursday night and early Friday morning to corral the north end of the fire. Additional firefighters were able to get in front of the fire and seal off its northern spread.

Heavier fuels on the break from the Mutton Mountains down to the Deschutes River tend to hold fire until the wind builds enough to cause it to spread downhill through grasses to the next concentration of heavy fuels. Firefighters reversed that process and interrupted the cycle by igniting fuels at the bottom of the slope, which quickly ascended the slopes to move fuel from the fire’s path. Eight miles of the river’s edge were buffered from the spreading wildfire without a single spot fire observed on the opposite shore.

“Good progress continues to be made in securing containment lines on the western and southern perimeters for future burnout operations on the south and east lines,” authorities reported. “The Deschutes River is still closed to recreationists as crews perform 20 miles of burnout along the road and river. Extreme wind-driven fire behavior, with 3 to 5- foot flame lengths in grass fuel model with torching in juniper trees.”

The river is closed from Trout Creek (river Mile 88.4) to Longbend (river mile 56.7) and continuing to burn toward the river south of the Dant area.

The south side of the fire is burning near Sunnyside Turnoff. As downed logs burn and snags torch, embers are being carried downhill toward the Deschutes.

Structure protection remains the main priority of night operations on the fire. Firefighters are continuing to establish and secure containment lines on the west, north and south perimeters, while using the Deschutes River as the containment line on the east.

The fire is expected to continue to spread to the north and east of Nena Creek, where it could come rapidly uphill toward homes near Maupin. Further burnout activity was planned Saturday. Residents of homes near Kaskela along the Deschutes have been issued a Level 1 evacuation notice by the Wasco County Sheriff’s office.

Fire officials acknowledge the potential for sparks to blow across the river, and want nearby residents to be aware of the threat.

New estimates on the Black Rock Fire near Grass Valley place it at much larger acreage than previously estimated, at 30,000 acres, said Lisa Clark of Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch. An interagency management team took over leadership on that fire Saturday as it became part of the Pine Creek complex.

The Donneybrook Fire 11 miles south of Antelope was remapped after aerial surveys Friday at 17,765 acres. Ashland Butte Rangeland Fire Protection and Oregon Department of Forestry are working that fire.

Winds from the northwest pushed heavy smoke from local fires into the Prineville area, Clark said, resulting in visibility of less than a mile in that area.

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