Wind and storms could spread wildfires in Oregon this week

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Oregon firefighters will face challenges this week as continued heat combines with windy and unstable conditions, possible thunderstorms and unwanted easterly winds, fire meteorologists said.

Forecasters said the concern was not on the same level as the 2020 Labor Day fires easterly wind event, but there are concerns about active wildfires near Oakridge, Grants Pass and Joseph’s which are spreading as well as new fires which start and grow rapidly.

Oregon’s utilities told the Statesman Journal they are monitoring conditions closely and may consider shutting down power lines to limit the danger of a wildfire. The downing of active power lines in high winds was at least partly to blame for the Labor Day wildfires.

Burning operations on Double Creek Fire on September 4, 2022.

Photo courtesy of Pacific Northwest 2 IMT

Eric Wise, fire meteorologist for the Northwest Coordination Center, described his level of concern as “about a 6 or 7,” on a scale of 1 to 10.

August has generally been the state’s busiest month for wildfires, but in September — when hot, dry easterly winds are involved — Oregon has seen the greatest spread of wildfires in the history of the state.

“This is a concerning forecast for western Oregon, but we also don’t expect anything like the winds we saw in 2020,” Wise said of this week.

Wednesday and then Friday through early Saturday are the days of greatest concern, officials said.

The heat on Tuesday and Wednesday combined with an unstable atmosphere could create dry thunderstorms, with lightning strikes that could start fires.

Friday and Saturday is when easterly winds are expected. Unlike the moisture-laden winds from the Pacific, easterly winds tend to dry out over the Cascade Range and sweep across western Oregon.

Weather models predict sustained wind speeds of around 20 mph with gusts of up to 40 mph in the Columbia River Gorge.

That’s good news for southwestern Oregon’s largest active fire — the Cedar Creek Fire — which is southeast of Eugene and about 12 miles from Oakridge. The fire, next to Lake Waldo, has burned about 28 square miles and growth appears likely.

Other wildfires likely to be affected include the Rum Creek Fire in southwestern Oregon above the Rogue River and the Double Creek, Sturgill, and Nebo fires in the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon. northeast Oregon.

Pacific Power spokesman Drew Hanson said if forecast conditions develop, the utility is prepared to cut power to reduce wildfire risk. Hanson said the goal was to notify potentially affected customers 48 hours in advance.

Portland General Electric spokeswoman Andrea Platt said it was too early to tell if a public safety power outage could be called.

Cooler temperatures and possibly even rain are expected next week.

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