A wildfire sparked by lightning last week is moving closer to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Eastern Oregon.
The Jennies Peak Fire has grown rapidly to 36,000 acres and is located about 8 miles north of the monument's famous Painted Hills along the John Day River.
All three units of the monument remain open for the moment, but that could change quickly, park superintendent Patrick Gamman said.
The fire has closed popular Priest Hole Recreation Site along the John Day. A number of country and BLM roads north of the Painted Hills also have been closed (see below for details).
The fire remains on the north side of the river, while the Painted Hills and the town of Mitchell is to the south.
"Winds are starting to pick up from the northeast making it more challenging this evening," fire teams said in a report Monday night. "
Although the park remains open, Gamman said, visibility was very poor at the park’s most popular sites.
“If you’ve always wanted to see the Painted Hills, now it not a great time to go,” Gamman said. “Visibility is pretty low because of the smoke throughout the units, but especially at the Painted Hills.
“Luckily there’s a river between us and the fire, so we haven’t closed any of the units but that could change.”
Parks officials have been posting images showing very hazy views of a landscape normally bursting with bright streaks of color. Air quality in the John Day area was rated “unhealthy” on Monday afternoon.
“It’s hard to see anything and just to breathe,” Gamman said. “There’s a lot of smoke and things are still kind of developing.”
Note: Wheeler County has closed Bridge Creek Road cutoff, the road that runs from Burnt Ranch Road to Twickenham. Priest Hole campground is closed. This closure will be re-evaluated but is expected to remain closed through Monday.
Zach Urness has been an outdoors writer, photographer and videographer in Oregon for 10 years. He is the author of the book “Best Hikes with Kids: Oregon” and “Hiking Southern Oregon.” He can be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6801. Find him on Twitter at @ZachsORoutdoors.