Slow Firefight Against Labrador Fire

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SELMA, Ore. – Fire resources stretched thin, combined with thick smoke choking the air, have made it difficult for crews to battle a large wildfire burning in the Illinois Valley.

The Labrador Fire has burned 870 acres in an area 12 miles northwest of Selma. 439 firefighters and fourteen 20-person handcrews are currently building firelines and trying to slow down the flames.

The fire is burning in a remote, steep area near the Oak Flat community, along the Illinois River. The lack of accessibility is making it difficult to place teams on the ground, and the smoke from several wildfires is preventing helicopters from being used.

Crews are hoping to contain the fire as it burns down toward the river, and prevent it from jumping across toward a few homes along the other side. Only a handful of people live in the isolated area, but an evacuation advisory has been put in place for those residents, meaning they need to be ready to go if the conditions change.

“There’s always the little bit of element of worry, things can happen,” said Jerry Sorensen, who lives in the Oak Flat area and is choosing to stay in his home. “But as far as what [the firefighters] are doing now, it makes us feel real comfortable.”

The Labrador Fire is burning in the same area where part of the Biscuit Fire burned in 2002. The hillsides still have plenty of dead trees from that fire, along with newly-grown brush. Firefighters said that creates more fire fuels, and runs the risk of trees rolling down the hills, spreading the fire and endangering crews.

“It’s an area where the fire will burn quicker in, but it won’t burn as hot,” said Howard Hunter, fire information officer. “But it’s a mosaic, there are other area that still have trees, areas that are grassy.”

The entire Illinois River Trail has been closed because of the fire, along with forest roads 4103 and 4105. Highway 199 remains open to traffic