Helicopter Over Oregon Lakes Fire

A helicopter moves a piece of equipment as a sling road to the Oregon Lakes Fire. Photo from Alaska Fire Service.

After weather changes over the weekend, the fire activity on the Oregon Lakes Fire has decreased, this following a vast expansion of the burn area last week. Wednesday, thunderstorms passed over the fire creating erratic winds that drove the fire north to the blacked area created by fire crews to serve as a fuel break to stop the fire’s growth. Now at 15,173 acres, the fire has generally behaved as expected by fire managers, and activities to keep the fire from escaping military property have been successful.

Residents and fire managers alike are familiar with the erratic behavior of area wildland fires, especially the quick expansions like that which occurred last week. The Oregon Lakes Fire has been difficult for fire managers because until the Wednesday expansion, the fire has remained on an impact area that is not accessible on the ground and not safe for low flyovers that would be required for retardant or water drops due to possible unexploded ordnances. As a result, suppression efforts have been limited to building fuel breaks to limit the growth of the fire.

When the expansion occurred last week, fuel breaks held, and the fire remained in the area expected. With much of the fuel burned in the impact area, the Alaska Fire Service plans to continue working on the more than eight miles of fire breaks and monitoring the fire activity in attempt to keep the fire on military land. Crews are also evaluating assets to the northwest of the current fire boundary to determine which assets might require protection if the fire were to continue to expand in that direction.

A Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) remains in place over the fire area to prevent outside aircraft, including military aircraft, from interfering with the suppression efforts.

The current Type 2 team is finishing its rotation and a new team is being briefed to take over command of the fire on Tuesday.

The Delta Wind asked Incident Commander Norm McDonald to respond to several questions about the team’s plans over the past two weeks and whether the outcome was as expected. We allowed McDonald to provide a written narrative response to the questions.

“When the Alaska Interagency Incident Management team was tasked to manage the Oregon Lakes Fire, our goal was not only to monitor and enlist suppression actions if needed, but come up with a short- and long-term strategy for this early-season fire. By including people with extensive experience working on past fires in this area, we took into consideration the dangerous terrain, the chance of rapid fire spread towards populated areas, the threat to private homes and businesses, and the impacts of smoke on Delta Junction and surrounding communities. Not only is this team made up of people with broad firefighting experience, but a support cadre of supply, finance, logistical and medical personal that is essential for keeping the entire operation running smoothly.

 “The goal is to efficiently and effectively keep the fire’s footprint as small as possible while decreasing the threat to values at risk and ensuring firefighter and public safety. We have so far successfully accomplished this goal while realizing this is only the beginning of fire season. Despite two days of Red Flag Warnings, several days of gusty southerly winds and thunder cells that have challenged the suppression efforts, there have been no injuries and no values threatened.

 “After two weeks managing the fire, the team will transfer command of the Oregon Lakes Fire to the Pacific Northwest Team 11 Type 2 Incident Management Team on Tuesday morning. The decision to request an IMT from Outside is to have the Alaska IMTs ready to respond to emerging incidents during this period of high fire danger. The strategic plan developed by the Alaska team will ensure a smooth transition to the incoming PNW team, setting them up for success. A few Alaska team members will remain to be integrated into the PNW team to assist with the complexities of operating in Alaska.

“We are thankful for the hospitality Delta Junction has given us during our time on the Oregon Lakes Fire. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve the community.”

Norm McDonald

Michael Paschall is the editor and publisher of Delta Wind and can be reached at editor@deltawindonline.com.