ENTERPRISE — The Joseph Canyon Fire has grown to about 3,700 acres, according to the latest update from the Oregon Department of Forestry on Sunday, June 6, as winds in the area have both hampered — but also helped — fire suppression efforts.
According to the ODF, air resources faced extra challenges from extreme winds in the Northeastern portion of Wallowa County, where the fire is burning. The wind, though, pushed the active fire line back onto itself, aiding efforts to help get the fire under control.
Christie Shaw, public information officer for the ODF, told the Chieftain that winds grounded air attack efforts during the day June 5.
"The wind has been difficult in that terrain," she said. "It's been challenging for folks. (June 5) we shut down air operations for a few hours."
Winds were estimated at around 32 mph, according to U.S. Forest Service PIO trainee Sara Bethscheider. She said, though, there's not a specific baseline windspeed that results in grounding aircrafts fighting fires.
"No magic numbers on the windspeed," she said. "It was high, erratic winds, which in turn created low visibility."
The fire, which was started by lightning and first spotted June 4, was estimated to be about 3,700 aces late June 5, up from an estimated 2,500 acres earlier in the day.
Shaw said the fire has been wind and terrain driven.
"It's burned primarily up and down the canyon," she said. "(Crews) are trying to really hold it in the bottom of Cottonwood Creek. It's burning up and down the canyon. That is the part we can control."
The challenge in battling the blaze is the location, ODF Deputy Agency Administrator Matt Howard said.
"This is probably one of the most difficult places to fight fire in Oregon," he said in a press release from the ODF. "Joseph Canyon is known for its extreme terrain, communication challenges, and natural hazards."
Four hand crews, two engines and three helicopters have been assigned to the fire, the release states. More resources are arriving steadily. Bethscheider said as of early June 6, around 300 people were working on the blaze.
Nobody has been evacuated, she added.
"(There was) one homeowner down there, and they were able to route the fire around the home and take it away another direction," she said. "It's in a super-remote area. Not a whole lot out there."
A hold line has been established by engine crews along 10 miles of roadway bordering the east side of Cottonwood Creek. Work will be done June 6 to reinforce that line. Aviation teams are working to hold the fire between Cottonwood Creek to the east and Rye Ridge to the west.
Crews should be aided June 6 by cooler temperatures and higher humidity in the region, as well as winds dying down.
The Northwest 7 Type 2 Incident Management Team will take over command of fighting the fire June 7. It is shadowing the Blue Mountain Type 3 Incident Management Team on June 6.
Fire personnel from the ODF, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Vale BLM and the Washington Department of Natural Resources are working to protect land — public and private — affected by the blaze.
The Dry Creek Fire, burning Southeast of the Joseph Canyon Fire, has also increased in size, but to just 400 acres, according to an update on the USFS's Wallowa-Whitman Facebook page.
"Active fire behavior throughout (June 5) caused the fire to cross from the north side of Dry Creek to the south," the post said. "Hotshot crews will be working today on securing containment lines for the fire which is burning within the scar of the 2012 Cache Creek Fire."