WALLOWA COUNTY — Residents on Eden Bench west of Flora and of Troy have been ordered to evacuate, according to a post Thursday afternoon, July 15, on the Wallowa County Sheriff's Office's Facebook page.
Evacuations have expanded to include Wildcat Road, Powwatka Road and county road 500/501 to 763, the sheriff's office announced late Thursday.
The cause of the evacuations is the Elbow Creek Fire, a blaze that started west of Troy earlier Thursday afternoon, according to David Weaver with the Oregon Department of Forestry.
According to an update from the Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service at about 6 p.m. Thursday, the fire had burned between 700-1,000 acres, and is burning in grass and timber. Hot and dry conditions are contributing to the growth of the blaze.
The fire has continued to spread, and Weaver during an interview at about 9:15 p.m. Thursday estimated the fire had grown to between 2,500-3,000 acres, and is within about 5 miles of Troy.
"We basically have fire along the Grande Ronde River from Elbow and Grossman creeks going to Cabin Creek on the north side, and down just about to Wildcat creek on the south side," Weaver said. "It's spreading down river and then up the canyon side and working back up the major drainages that flow into the Grande Ronde River.
Of the terrain, he added: "You have a very steep, deep, river canyon with very dead fine grass on one side ... and on the other side you have timber."
The fire, Weaver said, started just downstream from the confluence of Elbow Creek and the Grande Ronde River and has been moving east along the river. The fire was first reported around 2:30 p.m. Weaver said.
"The town of Troy is in the path," Weaver said.
The update from the USFS said it is burning about 5 miles northwest of Promise.
Weaver said the cause of the fire is unknown at this time.
He said the situation is "All hands on deck. We got everybody we can possibly gather."
He said late Thursday night that personnel is in place to conduct structure protection on the north side of the fire.
"We are working to get people out along the south side," he said.
A current silver lining is that because of progress made on the Lick Creek Fire, which has been burning about 10 miles north of the Oregon/Washington border, resources were made available to help with the initial attack on the new blaze, according to Wallowa County Commissioner Todd Nash.
"The one positive thing of all this is they had a good burnout last night on the Lick Creek (Fire)," he said. "They are utilizing the ground forces on that, and they had a lot of airplanes and helicopters readily available that they were able to put on this Elbow Fire. It was an all out assault on it."
The commissioner later added that "Having that air attack is probably pivotal."
Roy Flat and the 603 Road have been moved to Level 1 Evacuation notice, which is "Be Ready."
Eden Bench residents were first given the Level 3 "Go" notice around 3:30 p.m. Troy residents were moved to Level 2 "Be Set" soon after, and were given the "Go" notice at 5:37 p.m.
Watching the fire nervously from the Flora-Troy Road about 5 miles from Troy, Travis Beach heeded the warnings Thursday to be prepared to evacuate.
“We’re ready to go. We’re nervous,” he said. “We have our stuff packed and ready to go.”
He was there talking with friends Donald and Kathy Casper, who with their son drove pickups from Wallowa to help.
“We came out to lend a hand to our friends,” Kathy Casper said. “We have several friends here in Flora that might need their equipment moved. They didn’t have enough people to move their equipment so we were coming out to help.”
Jim Henson, who was watching a little farther up the road, also was ready to go.
“We’re as packed as we can be. Put valuables in a go bag and park the equipment in a fallow field that’s been plowed. There’s the house and outbuildings, the hay and crops in the fields we can’t do much about.”
“Unfortunately, for our friends and clients in Troy and on Eden Bench, it doesn’t look so promising,” Kathy Casper said. “Travis has a beautiful home down the hill.”
Area residents talked to had their ideas as to the cause of the blaze.
“From what they’re saying it was a sleeper from the lightning storm a week ago that just smoldered and then took off, or it’s man-caused,” Beach said. “I can’t speculate.”
Henson agreed the sleeper was possible, but had other ideas.
“It’s probably a man-caused fire,” he said. “I don’t know what else it could be. It’s right there on the river.”
As for whether the blaze will reach his property, Henson said, “It’s 50-50. It is what it is.”
This is a developing story that will be updated.