NEAR TILLER, Ore. – The Whiskey Complex is nearing containment after burning about 12,000 acres. But officials say they have a big fight ahead of them in the next couple of days, and some stubborn conditions to contend with.
Come Sunday, the weather is expected to become dry and windier. Officials say the challenge for the next couple of days is to fill in the gaps along the eastern flank of the fire and continue burnout operations to reduce the amount of fuels along that line.
The problem is, fires don’t seem to want to start where firefighters want them.
“That’s normally not what you would consider standard protocol in the middle of summer,” said Division Supervisor Ken Higle. “But up here it happens quite a bit I guess.”
High elevation allows the grasses to stay green longer and retain moisture. That sounds like a good thing, but officials say if you can’t burn them, it’s hard to get rid of them.
And it could be just a matter of days before they become dry as kindling.
“The problem is that they will probably cure out later on, and if we don’t get a good line in, it’ll probably burn much more vigorously later on. So we want to catch it now,” said Information Officer Randy Shepard.
In lieu of burning, firefighters are scanning the front lines, looking for unexpected flare-ups.
Even if burnout operations do have to wait another day, officials say those lines are well reinforced, and they’ll need to be.
“Obviously when it gets bigger it goes into other areas, and there are cultural resources in the area – some old historic cabins,” said Shepard. “Being able to hold it here would reduce the potential for additional damage.”
Two of the three fires in the complex – Smith Ridge and Buckeye – are already contained. Whiskey is expected to be contained by Tuesday.
Officials call it the last lap of a mile race, and crews say they’re ready to finish the job.
“They’re ready,” said Higle. “When we say, ‘let’s go get after it,’ they just follow the orders and go and do it.”
Crews are already beginning to trickle away to other fires in the region and in neighboring states. Once the Whiskey Complex is contained and controlled, the remainder of the firefight will gradually be turned over to local districts.