National Guard arrives to help defend structures, widen fire lines

By Kathleen Ellyn

Wallowa County Chieftain

The U.S. Forest Service expects to have the 74,471-acre Grizzly Bear Complex fire wrapped up by the end of October, according to Incident Command.

As of Tuesday, Sept. 1, the fire was 20 percent contained and the winds of Saturday and Sunday had not created the problems feared.

“It brought down some trees and snags and we had an antenna tower blown over at a spike camp at Fry Meadows, but it’s all back to normal,” said Mark Wilkening, public information officer for the Incident Command.

All evacuation levels have been lowered by one degree in all zones, he said. Areas until recently at Level 3 (Troy, Grouse Flats, Eden Bench area) will become Level 2. Areas recently at Level 2 (Asotin County north and east of Boggan’s Oasis and Big Butte) become Level 1. The evacuation warning has been lifted from areas that were previously Level 1.

Troy is still rated an Evacuation Level 2 because of fire off to the north, Wilkening said. “We’re not sure what the fire off to the north will mean, so we’re being cautious,” he said.

Cautious is the watchword in any case, according to Incident Command, which warns both firefighters and residents not to become complacent.

The cavalry has also come over the hill in the form of two groups of Oregon National Guard soldiers. The 310 guardsmen made their way to Troy and Grouse Flats and members are reportedly on the line, aiding in the area mop-up. They will remain on site, enlarging the defensible space near structures, widening fire lines and making sure there is no visible smoke or heat. They were joined by a small contingency of five to eight Washington National Guardsmen providing communications assistance, according to Wilkening.

Firefighting crews from Alaska and New Mexico have also joined the fight. In all, over 1,000 individuals are now working on containing the fire.

The fire continues to burn in the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness, Umatilla National Forest, and state and private forest land protected by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and Oregon Department of Forestry.

South of Troy, mopping up and widening of fire lines continues and Incident Command reported on Tuesday that 20 percent of those lines are in a condition that should contain the fire and prevent it from spreading in those directions. Along the southeast corner of the fire, workers are busy dropping hazardous trees along 62 road.

The Grizzly Bear Complex fire is now listed as comprised of 18 lighting cause fires — Bear Ridge in Washington, a 4,500-acre fire, was added in recently. The larger complex has not yet joined Bear Ridge, but is expected to, shortly. Treatment has already been done to keep the fire from “going crazy” once the Complex and Bear Ridge join up, Wilkening said.

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