Falls Creek Fire slowly growing

Steve Tool/Chieftain Mike Hayward (left), chairman of the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners, discusses county fire response strategy for the Falls Creek Fire with Wallowa County Emergency Services Director Paul Karvoski in the parking lot of the Hurricane Creek Grange Hall on the morning of Aug. 22.

The Falls Creek Fire, located in the Eagle Cap Wilderness and on some private property about 2 miles above the Hurricane Creek trailhead, has grown to about 250 acres as of the morning of Aug 25. The fire has forced the closure of Upper Hurricane Creek Road to all but fire personnel and residents as well as causing the issuance of a Level 1 (get ready) evacuation notice to nearby areas. The fire was reported by a hiker at about 7:28 a.m. on Aug. 22.

The fire also resulted in the closure of the Hurricane Creek Trail as well as the Falls Creek Trail within the wilderness area.

About 116 personnel from multiple agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Joseph City Fire Department are on the ground fighting the fire. Four engines and two water tankers are in service on the blaze, while several helicopters are being shared with the Grizzly Bear Complex Fire near Troy. Wallowa County Emergency Services and the Sheriff’s Office are assisting with closing off Hurricane Creek Road and serving evacuation notices.

A USFS Type 3 Incident Command Team assumed command of the fire with Francis Tyler as the team’s commander on Aug. 23. Smoke jumpers were flown into the Joseph Airport, but were transported to the fire by vehicle before hiking in due to poor visibility.

At a public information meeting held at the Joseph Community Center on Aug. 23, USFS officials said computer models showed the fire had little chance of reaching residences or other structures. Nevertheless, plans were implemented for the strategic placement of firefighting equipment near some residences for structural protection in the event of a “worst case scenario” incident. “It’s highly unlikely the fire will head in that direction, but if the very worst happens, we don’t want to be scrambling around looking for equipment,” Tyler said.

Jamie Knight, a public information officer with the ODF, said that because of the fire’s proximity to residences, permission was granted for special tactics on the wilderness area. “There is special language that allows for mechanical equipment to be authorized for these situations. In this case, motorized equipment such as chainsaws and pumps, but MIST (Minimal Impact Suppression Tactics) tactics will still be used,” she said.

Knight also said a fire investigator was already in place by Aug. 22 and is still on scene investigating the cause of the blaze, which is listed as undetermined.

The fire is projected to move north into Falls Creek and south toward Deadman Creek with weather concerns including the wind switching to southerly flow on Aug. 26 along with higher temperatures, lower relative humidity and a Red Flag Warning. The fire is zero percent contained with an estimated containment date of Sept. 10.

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