Katy Nesbitt
The La Grande Observer

JOSEPH — Specialized fire crews are battling the 800-acre Buck Fire in Hells Canyon this week between Somers Point and Temperance Creek.

According to Nathan Goodrich, a Wallowa-Whitman North Zone fire management officer, an early morning lightning storm came through the canyon Monday. Two strikes landed on the Oregon side of the canyon and two on the Idaho side, though no smoke was detected until 5 p.m., the windiest and driest part of the day.

The smoke was detected by a lookout at Heaven’s Gate, Goodrich said.

Goodrich said smokejumpers from Redmond arrived to fight the fire before 8 p.m. Monday and stayed the night. The fire grew overnight from 50 to 200 acres and 10 more jumpers from McCall, Idaho, were dispatched Tuesday morning.

By Tuesday evening, the fire was at 800 acres and helicopters flew the 20-person Zigzag Hotshots, from Zigzag, Oregon, to the fire from the Wallowa Mountains office fire warehouse helipad in Enterprise.

The entire fire is in the Hells Canyon Wilderness. The Forest Service aggressively suppresses the fast moving grass fires in the canyon because they can get big and expensive, Goodrich said. The firefighters on the ground are supported by a cadre of air support from large air tankers to single engine air tankers and an array of helicopters.

“There’s nothing going on in the region so we hammered it,” he said.

Goodrich said there was a fire retardant line Tuesday night around the perimeter of the fire and crews were “cold trailing” the edge of the fire line, feeling the ground with their bare hands for hot spots.

He said he expects the crews to be on the fire a few more days before they are sent home and the area is monitored by local personnel.