NEAR DETROIT, Ore. (KOIN) – Two weeks after lightning started a wildfire in the steep terrain of the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, the Whitewater Fire remains zero percent contained and likely will still be burning when the total solar eclipse happens on August 21.
The Whitewater Fire has grown to about 5500 acres and all trail access points into Jefferson Park, including a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail, are closed.
More than 600 firefighters from around the country are stationed in the area, working on creating a massive line around the fire to keep it from spreading. The fire is mainly burning on national forest land, but it is threatening private land just a few miles away, and just 13 miles from Detroit.
“Where the fires is burning right now is so steep, so rocky, we really don’t feel comfortable tackling it directly,” said Bonnie Gisler with the Oregon Department of Forestry. “What we’re looking at is creating a fuel break. So one of those factors that allows a fire to burn is the fuel that’s available, and that’s one of the more easy things to control.”
The fire has been mainly inactive over the past 4 days, but looming thunderstorms from California are a concern.
“We’ve been keeping an eye on them coming up from California,” Gisler told KOIN 6 News. “Right now we’re still uncertain if they’ll hit this area specifically, but regardless we are expecting a little bit of impact of storms based on winds they might produce.”
Chinook helicopters from the Oregon National Guard are being used to help with water drops on wildfires in Oregon, including the Whitewater Fire in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.
The water-dropping helicopters are in high demand throughout the entire western US and British Columbia, the ODF said.
Of the 16 active wildfires in the state, the largest is about 82 square miles, burning in grass and juniper in sparsely populated southeastern Oregon. About 270 personnel are assigned to that blaze and are focused on protecting sage grouse habitat and archaeological sites.