Crews on the Dollar Lake Fire took advantage of three days of cool temperatures and higher humidity this week to construct fire breaks and contingency lines around the perimeter of the fire.
But high wind, thick smoke, rugged terrain, limited access, heavy fuels and incoming hot, dry weather are just some of the challenges crews on the ground and in the air are facing on the now 1,801-acre fire burning on the north side of Mount Hood between Laurance Lake and Cloud Cap Inn.
An inversion layer trapped smoke near the fire Thursday, putting a halt to aerial attack units and severely limiting progress ground crews were able to make in anticipation of hot, dry and possibly windy weather in store for the weekend. The objective since the fire nearly tripled in size on Sunday and Monday, has been to use as many natural and existing features around the fire as possible to create fire breaks and contingency lines to be used when activity picks up.
"Looking at infared images, there's a lot of heat in there, and we know there's a lot of fuel," said Peter Frenzen, USFS information officer, from the Incident Command Post at Wy'east Fairgrounds. "It's similar to what we saw with the Gnarl Ridge Fire. It's not only difficult terrain to fight fire in; we also have the heavy fuel component and the unpredictable winds created by Mount Hood. It's a difficult fire to fight."
Thursday night 40 mph winds at Cloud Cap Inn kept night patrol crew busy looking for spit fires and watching the area's historic structures. In anticipation of the fire's eastward spread, crews wrapped some structures in the Tilly Jane area in protective foil, established a sprinkler system using water from Tilly Jane Creek and set up hose lays around the Inn supported by water tenders and large engines.
An update Friday morning noted 5 percent containment on the August 27, lightning-caused fire. Personnel Thursday was 274, but in anticipation of extreme fire potential this weekend, additional crews arrived and the number was up to 466 by Friday. Additional helicopters are among the increased resources.
The fire is currently less than a mile from Laurance Lake on the northwest edge and a similar distance to Cloud Cap Inn on the east edge. As of Friday, the fire was slowly backing downhill into Elliot Canyon, which was the far western burn area of the 2008 Gnarl Ridge Fire.
Efforts, Frenzen said, will be focused on cooling spots in the canyon and slowing the eastern and northern spread of the fire as activity picks up over the weekend. The area of least concern, he said, are the southern flanks highest up the mountain.