Saturday, December 20, 2014

With more than 35,000 acres burning on lands under its protection, primarily in southwestern Oregon, and fire danger persistently high or extreme across most of the state, the Oregon Department of Forestry is in the midst of its largest wildfire response in more than a decade.

In addition to employees regularly devoted to firefighting, staff from all parts of the agency are away from their regular jobs to serve on fire lines, in fire camps or in other fire-related roles.

"We are scaling back all but the most critical functions as we focus on our No. 1 mission, which is fire protection," State Forester Doug Decker said. "Fire danger and fire behavior indicators are at record levels, with more than two months of fire season left. This is clearly shaping up as a very tough summer."

About 5,000 firefighters, most contracted from the private sector and working under agency supervision, and more than 30 contracted aircraft are in action on ODF fires statewide.

With most agency staff assigned to fires or in fire support roles, other operations are curtailed. The routine services of field foresters, whose duties include monitoring compliance with forest practices rules during logging and answering questions from the public and family forestland owners, are substantially reduced.
Citizens may encounter delays in receiving services or information by telephone or at ODF offices.

On Monday, employees were asked to cancel vacations in most situations until further notice.

Although crews are responding to fire calls across Oregon, the largest blazes are currently in southern Oregon. A portion of the Douglas Complex of fires, estimated at more than 21,400 acres, has forced evacuations in the Glendale area, in Douglas and Josephine counties, and continues to threaten homes. Several other fires in the area are also continuing to grow.

The current rash of fires began with a surge of lightning late last week that sparked about 300 fires in southern Oregon, including more than 100 on ODF-protected lands.

Governor John Kitzhaber has pledged resources across state government, including signing a declaration authorizing assistance from the National Guard. He also has urged the public to use the utmost caution to prevent additional fires.

In Washington State Fire officials say a central Washington wildfire has now burned 104 square miles of grass, sagebrush and timber in Kittitas and Chelan counties.

The Colockum Tarps Fire has burned to the north end of the Wild Horse Wind Farm, about 17 miles east of Ellensburg overlooking the Columbia River. The blaze originated south of Wenatchee.

The Kittitas County Sheriff's Office ordered residents of about 75 scattered homes and cabins to evacuate Wednesday.

The fire danger is expected to remain high in Eastern Washington through Thursday amid the threat of erratic winds and lightning strikes from thunderstorms.

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