The Umpqua North Complex fires east of Glide have now grown to 11,680 acres. Residents from Dry Creek and Illahee remained evacuated from their homes Monday, and Clearwater residents were put under a Level 1 evacuation notice over the weekend.
On Sunday, the fire’s size had been reported at just 6,878 acres. Part of the apparent increase in acreage may be due to better mapping, said Sam Harrel, information officer with the Alaska Incident Management Team, which has been hired to help fight the fires. Overnight Sunday and Monday, an aircraft with infrared cameras has been able to fly over the fire and create more accurate maps.
Fifteen fires are burning in the Umpqua North Complex, while another 15 are burning in the smaller Falcon Complex east of Tiller.
The first of two community meetings this week to address the Umpqua North Complex is scheduled for 7 tonight in the Glide Community Center, 20062 N. Umpqua Highway. Another community meeting will be held at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Toketee Ranger Station near milepost 60 on Highway 138 East. Fire officials caution, however, that 138 East is closed to through traffic between mileposts 43 and 54.
The Umpqua North Complex is just 1 percent contained. Eight hundred and twelve firefighters are on scene fighting the fire along with four helicopters, 70 fire engines, 11 dozers, 14 water tenders and two masticators — machines that chew through brush and small trees.
Harrel said the firefighters are doing good work, but it’s tough. Crews are working to establish firelines through steep and difficult terrain, and using burnout operations to remove fuels.
Harrel said there are too many variables, from the steep terrain to resource sharing as fires burn across the West, to determine when the fires might be contained. Firefighters are moving resources from one spot in the complex to another as the need arises.
“It’s just kind of a constant game of three-dimensional chess,” he said.
A strong inversion lasting all day Monday helped keep fire activity low on the west end of the complex, but anticipated high temperatures in the upper 80s today combined with light valley winds are expected to cause the fires to move and spot in multiple directions.
Firefighters are focused on the two biggest and westernmost fires in the Umpqua North Complex: Fall Creek, which was mapped at 2,517 acres Sunday night, and Happy Dog, which was mapped at 5,208 acres. On Monday, Happy Dog advanced slowly north and east along Highway 138 East. Firefighters continue to focus on structure protection at Dry Creek and Illahee.
Fall Creek Fire remains east of private land despite crossing Fox Creek on Sunday. Firefighters initiated a burnout operation on Wright Creek Road as fire activity increased Sunday, and helicopters dropping buckets of water helped check the fire’s spread. The downside of Monday’s inversion, though, was it grounded the helicopters for the day.
So far no residences have been lost to the Umpqua North Complex fires, though more than a dozen power poles were burned last week. Pacific Power crews are working day and night to restore power and to cover standing poles with fire retardant, and have provided the Dry Creek store and nearby homes with a generator.
Firefighters in the structure protection group were in the Susan Creek area Monday, removing brush from homes and staging equipment in case the area comes under threat.
“We’re just making sure that if the fire makes it to here we’re in a better position to protect the homes and to protect the campgrounds and the infrastructure and everything that’s there,” Harrel said.
The Susan Creek residential area and BLM Susan Creek Campground, as well as Highway 138 East from milepost 28 east to the Forest Service and BLM lands were at a Level 1 evacuation notice Monday. The Clearwater area along Highway 138 East from milepost 53 to milepost 61 was also at Level 1. That’s the lowest level in a three-tier system, with Level 3 being the call to evacuate.
Moore Hill Lane remained on a Level 2 evacuation notice, meaning the threat is increasing there and residents should get set to evacuate.
Highway 138 East from milepost 39 to milepost 54 remained closed Monday because of falling debris and fire activities. The North Umpqua River remains closed to boaters and anglers from Boulder Flat Raft Launch to Susan Creek Campground due to falling trees and rolling debris.
An American Red Cross evacuation shelter is open at the Glide Seventh Day Adventist Church, 19085 North Umpqua Highway, Glide.
Firefighters also continued to tackle the 3,100-acre Falcon Complex, 25 miles east of Tiller. That complex was 18 percent contained Monday.