In a matter of hours last week, the Elbow Creek Fire started and erupted, expanding thousands of acres, tearing through tinder-dry fuel while driven by wind, and quickly threatening homes on Eden Bench and other nearby properties. Level 3 evacuation notices were put in place almost immediately.
At the latest report, the blaze is more than 17,000 acres, making alone nearly twice as big combined as the Joseph Canyon and Dry Creek fires that burned in June.
It’s perhaps fitting it is drawing a few comparisons to the Grizzly Bear Complex. After all, the fire is burning very close to where that blaze charred land in 2015 when it burned more than 83,000 acres. Like the Grizzly, Elbow Creek was driven by winds early on. The fire got into rugged terrain, which has made fighting it a major challenge.
That crews have been able to get a handle on it in some areas already is remarkable. Troy was in the path of the fire as it started to burn up the Grande Ronde River. A successful burnout operation has put its eastward spread on hold for now. Spread to the north has been stalled, too. Even the community of Promise, which is within less than a mile south of the fire, appears to have been spared for now. Just one “vacation structure” has been destroyed thus far, according to the Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office, and there have been just two minor injuries reported.
That in and of itself is remarkable.
There still is plenty of work ahead as crews battle this fire. The southwest portion of the fire is causing real trouble for firefighters currently. It’s good that the east and north sides are in good shape, so that as they get contained, more crew members can be moved to the western front.
It’s hard saying how long this will go, and whether it has the potential to reach the size of Grizzly. We hope that is not the case.
Regardless, the efforts of all who have fought the blaze need to be recognized and commended. While the fire got too out of hand for local resources, they put forward a valiant effort to safe lives and property. The Type 1 ODF Incident Management Team brought in has added a plethora of resources, as more than 400 people are fighting the fire as of Tuesday morning — the cavalry arriving at the right time.
We are grateful for the local firefighters who were in the initial attack, for those who have come from across the state to join in the fight, and for regional law enforcement — in the form of the Union and Baker county sheriff’s offices — to aide ours in Wallowa County with Sheriff Joel Fish dealing with an illness.
We don’t want to see this fire continue to grow, so we pray for firefighters’ success in battling the fire and, more importantly, for their safety.