GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Fire crews from around the country were dispatched Friday to Oregon as state resources were stretched thin by 15 large fires that burned across more than 565 square miles of timber, rangeland and grass.
Crews were available to attack new fires but no more firefighters were being assigned to bolster the 5,000 battling existing blazes, said Carol Connolly, spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.
No serious injuries have been reported due to the blazes, but ranchers in eastern Oregon have been finding cattle killed by range fires.
With fires also burning in Washington, incident management teams were being brought in from Montana, Nevada and Utah, and hotshot crews were dispatched from California, Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Illinois, Mississippi and Montana, Connolly said.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has declared a state of emergency, and the Oregon National Guard has deployed four heavy helicopters but no crews to help fight the fires, Connolly said. A helicopter from Grand Canyon National Park was stationed in Joseph for medical evacuations.
Red-flag warnings for hot, dry, windy weather were in effect across much of the region, but a cold front was forecast to move through late Friday, bringing moister air for the weekend.
The bulk of the fires were touched off by lightning storms moving through the drought-parched region last weekend. Three new fires were reported Friday.
Bill Wilber, chairman of the wildlife committee for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said his brother found seven cows and 13 calves dead in an area burned by the Buzzard Complex of fires east of Burns. Surviving cattle wandered in a daze.
Those fires have burned 425 square miles of rangeland since they were touched off by lightning on Monday.
Many of the cattle that survive will be traumatized to the point they do not gain enough weight to meet contract specifications, Wilber said. And ranchers will have a hard time making up the forage lost to the flames.
Wilber said he and his nephew joined in fighting the fire, using bulldozers to cut fire lines on family grazing areas.
Oregon’s top priority was the Shaniko Butte fire, which has burned across 40 square miles of grass, brush and juniper 12 miles north of Warm Springs.
Authorities closed a popular section of the Deschutes River to rafting and other activities after the fire reached the river at the community of Dant on Thursday. The fire was 10 percent contained, with most of the burned area on the northeastern corner of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation.
At the Bridge 99 fire in the Cascade Range, 20 miles north of Sisters, top-level evacuation advisories remained in effect for residents of 45 homes along the Metolius River, and residents of 835 homes around Lake Billy Chinook were advised to be ready to evacuate on short notice.
Combined with the nearby Bear Butte 2 fire, the Bridge 99 Complex has burned 10 square miles of timber and was just 5 percent contained.
In the Ochoco Mountains, the Waterman Complex fires grew to more than 12 square miles 10 miles northeast of the community of Mitchell. U.S. Highway 26 remained closed at the Ochoco Summit, and top-level evacuation advisories remained for 10 homes along West Branch Road and 12 others in the Marks Creek area. The fires were 35 percent contained.
Near Sprague River in Klamath County, firefighters had the Moccasin Hill fire 55 percent contained after it burned 4 square miles of private timber. The cause of that fire, which burned 17 residences Sunday in an off-the-grid subdivision, remained under investigation.