Fire in Warm Springs | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Fire in Warm Springs

A fire on the Warm Springs reservation reached over 6,000 acres; crews called in for backup during a hot weekend

A fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation spread to an estimated 6,200 acres at the start of the week. The S-503 fire was first spotted on Friday, June 18; by Saturday morning it had spread to an estimated 250 acres and grew rapidly over the hot and windy day. By the end of Saturday Warm Springs Fire Management said the blaze had grown to 4,300 acres and threatened 250 homes and structures in the area. The cause of the fire is unknown at this time, according to Inciweb, the interagency incident information management system. 

On Monday Incident Commander Kevin Stock of the U.S. Forest Service assumed management of the fire. 

“Firefighters are focused on securing areas of concern including structures, residences and values at risk. Night shift continued line construction on the southern portion of the fire tying into a large meadow,” a statement from the Oregon Department of Forestry said. 

On Tuesday the firefighters focused largely on the fire’s northern and eastern flanks, as well as the heel of the northwest corner, where further spread would threaten residences in Pine Grove in Wasco County. On Sunday evacuation notices were lowered from Level 3 (go now) to Level 2 (get ready). There have already been two spot fires since the start of the blaze, one that reached about 42 acres near a fish hatchery that is 50% contained and one that was just under an acre that was secured and is now being patrolled. 

“Predicted afternoon winds and potential thunderstorms may test the eastern flank today. Initial attack activity is expected to increase as lightning activity moves through the area,” the statement said.  

The Warm Springs fire was just 10% contained in the latest release from the Forestry Service, but a video released by Warm Springs Fire Management reported they hoped to get the perimeter secured Tuesday—but with thunderstorms in the forecast, crews expected the eastern flank of the fire to be further tested.  

Calling for backup

The mix of drought, heat and lightning is severe enough that the Oregon State Fire Marshal deployed two task forces to Central Oregon on Tuesday to relieve some of the pressure off of local crews. Over 300 local firefighters had been working on the Warm Springs fire since the blaze started. 

“We know the conditions across the state are dry, and with thunderstorms in the forecast, even the smallest spark could trigger a wildfire, that is why we are prepositioning these resources,” Oregon State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple said in a press release. “We can’t control the weather, but we can plan for what we can control, and that is strategically placing resources ahead of this weather event.” 

The teams weren’t sent to deal with a specific fire, but to bolster local forces in preparation for potential incidents. The two teams hail from Marion County and Washington County, and will remain in Central Oregon for at least three days to assist local teams if any wildfire eruptions threaten structures, and could stay longer if needed. 

The OSFM hasn’t deployed any of its Incident Management Teams, who provide support for severe fires, but at least one of the state’s three teams could be sent if a fire gets out of hand. 

The current fire has impacted the air quality around Warm Springs ,but not to an unhealthy level at press time. The Warm Springs Air Quality Report for Tuesday showed there are 53 micrograms of pollution per cubic meter, up from the average of 13. This is considered a moderate amount of pollution that’s acceptable to most people, but could pose some health concern for people who are particularly sensitive to air pollution. 

About The Author

Jack Harvel

Jack is originally from Kansas City, Missouri and has been making his way west since graduating from the University of Missouri, working a year and a half in Northeast Colorado before moving to Bend in the Spring of 2021. When not reporting he’s either playing folk songs (poorly) or grand strategy video games,...
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