Warm Springs fire expands into forested area

A burn out operation on the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire south of Mutton Mountain on Wednesday, July 24, 2013. The fire is burning on the Warm Springs Reservation. (Inciweb.org)
A burn out operation on the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire south of Mutton Mountain on Wednesday, July 24, 2013. The fire is burning on the Warm Springs Reservation. (Inciweb.org)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Central Oregon has expanded into a forested upland, complicating the battle against a six-day-old blaze.

The growth of the Sunnyside Turnoff fire has slowed and is now estimated at 74 square miles. But the projected date for containing it has been pushed back from Sunday to next Thursday.

The reservation fire started in grass, sagebrush and juniper but has spread north into the Mutton Mountains, fire information officer Bill Queen said Thursday.

The area is marked by a tree common in Oregon’s eastern forests, the Ponderosa pine. Wildfires in trees can expand quickly by igniting lower-level fuels and racing to the crowns of the trees, spreading from there. Mountain winds are less predictable, too.
The Kah-Nee-Ta resort on the reservation said it would reopen part of its operation Thursday, although its main lodge is expected to remain closed because of damage from an unrelated fire a few days before the wildfire broke out.

The wildfire that began Saturday is attributed to human activity, but authorities haven’t made public any details of what they suspect.

The number of firefighters has more than doubled, to about 750. Residents of one subdivision remained on evacuation alert.

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs introduced bighorn sheep into Mutton Mountains more than a decade ago, and the population has grown stable enough for the tribe to allow hunts that started last October.

A tribal official told the Bend Bulletin the sheep aren’t in danger.

“They are pretty savvy,” said Doug Calvin, a tribal wildlife program manager. “There is a lot of rocky outcrop in that area, and the sheep are really agile.”

Farther south, in Klamath County, another fire blamed on humans was smoldering within containment lines, fire crews reported. A La Pine man believed to have been camping illegally on public land has been accused of leaving a fire unattended. About 120 people were temporarily evacuated, and an unoccupied vacation cabin burned.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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