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Smoke from the Elbow Creek Fire fills the sky on Thursday, July 15, 2021. 

WALLOWA COUNTY — The Elbow Creek Fire, in the northwestern corner of Wallowa County, has quickly spread and became the state’s third largest wildfire.

As of 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 18, the fire has reached approximately 10,941 acres. Unlike other wildfires that originated in early July, the Elbow Creek Fire — which began on the afternoon of July 15 — has grown much more rapidly than previous incidents.

An online map from InciWeb shows the fire is now 10% contained.

According to Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Public Relations Specialist Acacia Probert, the high winds in the Wallowa County area were a major contribution to the early spread of wildfire. Burning alongside the Grande Ronde River, the Elbow Creek Fire quickly jumped up to 9,000 acres by July 16 as winds spread embers and pushed the fire down towards more fuels.

Probert says that winds dying down on July 16 led to a drop in the severe spread of the wildfire, as it grew less than 2,000 additional acres. The wind reduction has been a major positive amongst a combination of unfavorable circumstances contributing to the fire.

Like most fires in the Pacific Northwest, the dry conditions and low humidity have been a major factor to the Elbow Creek Fire. With the moisture content so low due to a lack of consistent rain, the grass and timber in the area soaks in the limited humidity. With these conditions, the major wind on July 15 led to a rapid growth of the Elbow Creek Fire in its early stage.

According to Probert, the high wind pattern is slightly reminiscent of the Grizzly Bear Complex of 2015, but not nearly as detrimental in the early stages. Early winds were a large early factor for both fires, but the decrease in wind on July 15 is promising for the containment of the Elbow Creek Fire.

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