Wallowa County officials: Be ready to evacuate

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer August 05, 2014 08:03 am

JOSEPH — The county has ordered residents of the Imnaha River corridor to be ready to evacuate from River Woods to Fence Creek. Resources, including air attack, are utterly tapped out in the Pacific Northwest Region and it is only early August.

Rene Crippen, manager of the Blue Mountain Interagency Dispatch Center in La Grande told an overhead team assigned to fires in Hells Canyon and the Imnaha River that there are no resources available anywhere.

“There are no crews available. When you are placing orders for resources, use a date and time two to three days out.”

The Five Mile Fire burning about a mile south of Imnaha and the Somer Fire in the Hells Canyon Wilderness have used single-engine air tankers, heavy air tankers, and “very large air tankers.” North Zone Assistant Fire Management Officer Mark Moeller said as many as eight of the agile single engine air tankers were used on the fires coming in from Vale, La Grande, Grangeville and McCall along with the bigger air tankers.

Because of the fast moving grass fires in inaccessible terrain, up to seven helicopters have assisted the retardant planes.

Because resources are stretched Crippen said, “You got to be clear why you are ordering retardant, from here on out its going to be a real challenge and there are no more helicopters available in the region.”

Noel Livingston, deputy fire staff for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, said, “The message from the regional forester’s office is “You’ve probably got what you’ve got to work with. Smart fire fighting is going to be the key.”

Livingston said the Five Mile/Somers complex is the only Type 2 incident; there’s a Type 3 team managing the Mt. Ireland Fire Complex south of Baker City where several small fires are burning in the Baldy Creek drainage.

Morel fires are burning on the Malheur National Forest that have potential, said Livingston, and he anticipates“lots of activity. He said crews may pick up initial attack fires in the coming days. “I anticipate a lot of holdovers from the lightning last weekend.”

The 3,720-acre Five Mile Fire is on both private and national forest land. Moeller said engines assigned to the fire are protecting structures and burning out between the fire line and the Hat Point Road to secure the fire’s perimeter. Besides keeping the fire on the west side of the road the other main objective is to keep the fire out of the town of Imnaha.

Approximately 40 firefighters are on the line of the Five Mile Fire including a seven person hand crew, 11 engines, a dozer operator and a swamper.

The 400-acre Somers Fire is being fought exclusively from the air, said Moeller, with limited access and steep terrain. Helicopter rapellers are fighting the blaze.

The fire team headed up by Incident Commander Doug Johnson was released from a fire outside of Condon Monday morning and were in Joseph for a 7 p.m. briefing at the Community Center. They will take control of the fire from the North Zone Tuesday and be headquartered out of the Joseph Rodeo Grounds.