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Crews quickly knock down Owens fire

Oregon Department of Forestry firefighters working to cool off a massive slash pile that caught fire on the upper perimeter of the fire; above, Wy’east Fire Department Chief Greg Borton keeps an eye on the fire while a crew from Portland’s KGW station gets footage for the evening news.

Photo by Adam Lapierre.
Oregon Department of Forestry firefighters working to cool off a massive slash pile that caught fire on the upper perimeter of the fire; above, Wy’east Fire Department Chief Greg Borton keeps an eye on the fire while a crew from Portland’s KGW station gets footage for the evening news.

A wildfire that began sometime early Wednesday morning on the site of an active timber sale on Hood River County Forestry Department timberland has been brought under control by fire crews.

As of Friday morning, the Owens fire, located approximately 12 miles south of Hood River on Pinemont Drive, had burned 20 acres, but was completely surrounded by fire lines and listed at 85-percent containment.

“They’re basically doing mop up,” Rod Nichols, public information officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry, reported Friday morning. “They have one hand crew and several fire engines, so it sounds like it’s kind of a done deal.”

Nichols said the fire was first reported at 3:45 a.m. Wednesday, although Nichols did not have information available about who reported it. Initially, the fire was estimated at 50-75 acres in size, and Nichols attributed the difficulties in estimating the fire to the smoke, darkness, and the steep canyon in which it was burning at the time.

Firefighters with ODF, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area division of the U.S. Forest Service, the Zigzag Hotshots, and local fire crews were dispatched to the scene early Wednesday morning. At peak activity, firefighting resources consisted of one helicopter performing water drops, six hand crews, one hotshot crew, six fire engines, three bulldozers, several water tenders and other fire management personnel.

The fire initially burned in a pile of dry, red slash left over from the felling operation and spread rapidly. However, the fire reached piles of timber that had been bucked and felled and Nichols reported that the larger material significantly slowed fire growth and allowed firefighters to bring the blaze under control.

Rolling logs and rocks as well as steep terrain made fighting the flames a challenge at times, but Nichols said that as of Friday morning, no firefighter had been injured on the job.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, although Nichols noted that the fire occurred inside the confines of “an active timber operation, so our investigators are focused on that.”

Doug Thiesies, forestry manager for the county forestry department, said the incident was “the first one in a lot of years that has burned during an active sale.” According to Thiesies, the timber sale, referred to as the Ben timber sale, was awarded to High Cascade out of Carson, Wash., with logging operations contracted out to other timber companies. The sale consists of three different units comprised of approximately 2.56 million board feet.

Thiesies reported that about 600,000 board feet of primarily Douglas fir, Ponderosa pine, and white fir priced between $155 and $255 per thousand board feet had burned in the Owens fire, which affected only one of the units — about of third of which had been logged. Thiesies, however, expected the timber company would be able to “recover the majority of what’s out there.”

Nichols said ODF would be working with the timber company to remove the logs to ensure that all the flames had been extinguished and expected the area would have to be monitored throughout the summer in case of flare-ups.

“It could be weeks until they clean that up finally,” he said of the fire area, “but it’s out of danger right now.”

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