DETROIT, Ore. -- — The Whitewater Fire exploded for the second straight day, tripling in size to 4,570 acres in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness.
Hot weather and high winds pushed the fire within four miles of State Highway 22 and rained ash and smoke on nearby Detroit.
Shifting winds could produce areas of “extreme fire behavior” Friday and into the weekend in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, officials said.
“Potential fire behavior could include torching and crown fire activity,” officials said in a news release.
No evacuations are currently planned, but more trail and road closures are expected in coming days, including on the Pacific Crest Trail.
The primary goal, officials said, is preventing the fire from reaching Highway 22, where it could hop the roadway and expand into more populated areas.
Firefighters are building multiple layers of containment lines on surrounding Forest Service Roads to slow the fire’s spread, officials said.
“The broad goal right now is to keep it from crossing Highway 22,” said Marcus Kaufmann, incident spokesman. “We’re trying to keep it as close to the wilderness as is possible.”
The expansion brought additional closures, including to Triangulation Peak and Woodpecker trails. That’s in addition to six other closures, including all routes into popular Jefferson Park and an 11-mile segment of the PCT.
The fire is currently burning right on the edge of Jefferson Park, a popular alpine basin of mountain lakes at the base of Oregon’s second-tallest mountain.
A small spot fire is burning in the basin, but officials said the park is well-protected by steep ridges and lakes and is unlikely to get totally torched.
“We don’t anticipate Jefferson Park burning too much,” said Eric Johnson, deputy fire staff officer. “It has a lot of natural protection and hasn’t burned much in the past, whereas the forest around it has been burned many times over the years.”
Firefighters faced brutal conditions on the lines, with temperatures reaching 90 degrees and the air choked with smoke. Five helicopters are dropping water on the fire, and 202 people are working the fire.
The cause of the fire is a month-old lightning strike in the Whitewater Creek area, Kauffman said. He said lightning struck a tree about 100 yards off Whitewater Trail and smoldered for weeks. Eventually, the tree fell down and ignited a pile of brush and timber.
The fire comes at a difficult time. Tens of thousands are expected to descend on Detroit and the Mount Jefferson area for the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21. Many had planned to view the event from Jefferson Park.
Grady McMahan, district ranger for Willamette National Forest, previously said fire crews would do everything in their power to have the area open by the eclipse.
However, given the fire's growth, that might not be possible.
"I would like to tell people that we'll have it open for the eclipse, but at this point I can't tell if that will be possible," McMahan said last week.
A fire camp has been established at Hoodoo Ski Area as fire teams bring in heavy equipment to contain the blaze.
The following road and trail closures are currently in effect:
- All trails into Jefferson Park
- Whitewater Trail #3429 is closed from its origin to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail #2000.
- Cheat Creek Trail #3441 is closed from its origin to the junction with the Triangulation Trail #3373.
- Triangulation Trail #3373 is closed from its junction with trail #3374 (near Triangulation Peak) to the terminus at Whitewater Trail #3429.
- Crag Trail #3364 from its origin to the terminus at the Triangulation Trail #3373.
- Pacific Crest Trail (#2000) North of Woodpecker Trail (#3442) to Breitenbush Lake.
- South Breitenbush Trail (#3375) East of Bear Point Trail (#3342) up to the PCT (#2000).
- Forest Service Road 2243, Whitewater Rd. (at Highway 22) is closed to avoid conflicts with fire traffic.