Northwest wildfires break records for cost, size this summer

The U.S. Forest Service spent around $200 million a week battling wildfires across the country during the summer of 2015, breaking all-time records, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.  Oregon and Washington were among the hardest hit states, with hundreds of thousands of acres scorched.

Photos: Heroes on the fire lines

The Northwest wildfires took the lives of three firefighters, destroyed many homes and forced hundreds of residents to evacuate, sometimes for weeks on end.  They also left ranchers struggling over the loss of cattle and prime grazing land.

County Line 2 fire (near Warm Springs)

The County Line 2 fire was the first major wildfire in Oregon during the summer of 2015.  Hundreds of guests at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort on the Warm Springs Reservation and residents in the Wolf Point subdivision were forced to pack up and flee as the fire suddenly sparked along Highway 26 on August 12.

Oregon State Forester Doug Decker had the foresight to see that this was the start of what would likely be an especially dangerous fire season. "If you couple these major fires with increasing shortages of firefighting resources and add in the extreme fire danger and conditions statewide, you can see just how critical it is to prevent the next fire," he said. 

As of September 3, the County Line 2 wildfire was 97 percent contained at 67,207 acres.

Stouts Creek fire (Canyonville area)

The Stouts Creek fire near Canyonville threatened hundreds of homes when it started on July 30, but firefighters were able to contain it quickly. 

The blaze was held at 26,452 acres and was 98 percent contained as of August 7. 

Investigators believe it was sparked on July 30, by someone using a lawnmower during hours that were prohibited due to fire restrictions.

Canyon Creek Complex fire (near John Day, Ore.)

The Canyon Creek Complex near John Day was another one of the major summer wildfires.  It started in mid-August and had burned 110,422 acres by September 21, when it was 95 percent contained.

Photos: Wildfire in John Day area

It was also one of Oregon's longest burning fires, sparked by lightning on August 12.  

This wildfire destroyed at least 26 homes and prompted extended evacuation warnings.

http://www.kgw.com/story/news/local/central-oregon/2015/08/15/more-than-20-structures-destroyed-wildfire-near-john-day/31784231/

National Creek Complex fire

The National Creek Complex encompassed two wildfires sparked by a series of lightning strikes on August 1 - a blaze in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the Crescent Fire in the northwest corner of Crater Lake National Park.

The Crescent Fire soon grew to become the biggest in Crater Lake Park's history. It also prompted closures at the park's north entrance, where structures were wrapped for fire suppression.

As of September 21, the fire complex was 90 percent contained at 20,945 acres.

Much- needed rain made a big difference in firefighters' efforts to finally get the upper hand on this fire complex.

Dry Gulch fire (near Richland, Ore.)

The Dry Gulch fire, northwest of Richland in Eastern Oregon, had grown to 17,823 acres and was 85 percent contained as of September 21.

More than $1.5 million was spent on fire suppression.  Investigators had not determined the cause.

No houses burned, but 137 homeowners were issued evacuation warnings during the peak of the blaze.

Cornet-Windy Ridge fire (Baker City area)

Near Baker City, the Cornet-Windy Ridge fire had burned 103,887 acres and was 80 percent contained as of August 29.

The fire started on August 10 and investigators think it was sparked by lightning west of Durkee.

Like so many communities in Oregon, residents reached out to thank firefighters any way they could, including making cookies and leaving notes of appreciation.

In an effort to help homeowners impacted by the fire, Baker County officials announced they would reappraise properties that were damaged or destroyed, leading to reduced property tax bills.  Funding was also provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners in the hardest hit areas of Baker, Grant and Malheur counties.

http://www.kgw.com/story/news/local/southern-oregon/2015/08/10/oregons-biggest-wildfire-now-40-percent-contained/31417167/

Cove fire

Flames were shooting 20 feet into the air when campers at Cove Palisades State Park grabbed what they could and evacuated Aug. 29, near Lake Billy Chinook. The wildfire quickly spread past 200 acres and 60 people living in a Culver subdivision were evacuated. 

At least two homes were destroyed, along with several outbuildings. Photos shared with KGW showed the chaos that surrounded the sudden evacuations. Investigators believe the fire was sparked by charcoal that was not disposed of properly. 

In Washington, wildfire conditions were also extremely volatile.

Okanogan Complex Fire

In north-central Washington, the Okanogan Complex fire grew to become the largest wildfire in Washington state history.

Fire officials estimated that suppression efforts cost more than $44.5 million.

The fires were sparked by lightning on August 14 and prompted several evacuations. In mid-August, flames jumped a containment line and three firefighters were killed as the blaze advanced onto the towns of Twisp and Winthrop.  Four other people were injured.

http://www.kgw.com/story/news/local/wildfires/2015/08/19/okanogan-county-town-evacuated-due-wildfire/31987159/

As of September 19, the complex was 95 percent contained, at 133,142 acres. 

Chelan complex

The Chelan Complex Fire had burned 88,985 acres as of September 18, and was 98 percent contained. The fire started on August 14 and investigators said the cause was unknown.

At least 75 homes were destroyed and 2,700 homeowners got evacuation orders while the fire was still spreading.

http://www.kgw.com/story/news/local/wildfires/2015/08/17/chelan-fires-remain-threat-hot-dry-weather-expected/31846839/?c=n&can=n

Fire officials said it cost more than $18.9 million to battle the blaze.  At the peak, 2,600 firefighters and support personnel were fighting the flames, along with 200 soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. 

Horsethief Butte fire (near Wishram, Wash.)

The Horsethief Butte fire started in the Columbia River Gorge north of Dallesport, Washington on September 13 and quickly spread into the hills above Wishram.  As of September 16, it was 95 percent contained at 7,930 acres.

Approximately 300 people were forced to evacuate their homes, but no houses were destroyed.  The fire also threatened public utility transmission and distribution lines along state Route 14, irrigation infrastructure, recreational resources at two state parks, and valued environmental resources of the Columbia River, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA approved federal funding for battling the Horsethief Butte Fire, which was contained in just a matter of days.  The federal grant did not cover costs of assistance to homeowners or business owners.

Cougar Creek fire

As of September 8, the Cougar Creek wildfire north of Glenwood, Wash. had burned 53,523 acres and was 97 percent contained, with more than 400 firefighters working on it.

It was sparked by lightning on August 10, near Glenwood, Wash. and spread quickly in dry logging slash, tall grass and extensive bug-killed timber in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  

On September 10, the Pacific Crest Trail, Mount Adams climbing routes and other sites were reopened after fire danger was reduced. A few recreation sites on the south side of the mountain were still closed so visitors were urged to check the latest closure maps.

KGW is partnering with the American Red Cross to help people affected by  the wildfires in Oregon and across the Northwest. Your donation enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from these disasters.

Sen. Ron Wyden on August 17 released the following statement about the wildfire season:

"These infernos are threatening lives and burning up Oregon's forests and homes. I will continue to work with the U.S. Forest Service and the State to ensure all the resources that are available are deployed as quickly as possible. When I get back to Washington DC, my first order of business is to finally end the terrible trifecta that makes these fires worse: underfunding firefighting budgets, stealing money from fire prevention to make up the shortfall and letting hazardous fuels build up as a result."

Here's a map of current Red Flag Warnings (red) and Fire Weather Watches (yellow)

http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/data/last12/fire_wx_map.png?c=n&can=n

Wildfire season officially began on June 16 in Oregon, with fire danger at that point already similar the time of last September's Scoggins Creek Fire, according to Columbia Unit Protection Unit Forester Malcolm Hiatt.

Here's a look at the latest Pacific Northwest wildfire information, as well as prevention tips and air quality levels, updated daily by the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Oregon:

http://wildfireoregondeptofforestry.blogspot.com/

Washington:

In addition to the latest updates on wildfires in the Northwest, fire officials in both states offer tools for preventing wildfires and minimizing the risk to people, wildlife and lands should they ignite:

Protecting your home

Action plan for wildfire smoke

Hourly air quality data (Oregon)

Using visibility to estimate health impact

And click for more fire weather resources from the National Weather Service

Here's a drought map of the US, updated weekly

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/data/pngs/20150623/20150623_usdm_home.png

Related stories:

 

http://www.kgw.com/story/news/local/2014/09/19/brush-fire-rapidly-spreading-near-hagg-lake/15915251/


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