Heat, strong winds could cause Oregon wildfires to surge over the weekend; evacuations underway

Strong winds and high temperatures are expected to fan wildfires burning in southern and northeastern Oregon this weekend. The fires had consumed nearly 230,000 acres by Friday morning, prompting evacuation orders, school closures and emergency power shut-offs.

At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Kate Brown and emergency officials said many Oregonians should be prepared to evacuate and lose power.

“We’re really concerned about the next 72 hours,” said Travis Medema, chief deputy state fire marshal.

The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning for northwest Oregon, as wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour and critically low humidity increase the risk of rapid fire spread in the area.

The Cedar Creek fire, located about 20 miles west of La Pine, has nearly doubled in size since Wednesday, propelled by strong winds and low humidity. More than 800 firefighters and other personnel, with seven helicopters, contained the 33,000-acre fire by 12% on Friday morning. Crews will be strategically placed around the fire overnight as wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour are forecast for Friday evening.

Fire officials believe extreme fire conditions will continue over the weekend. Cooler, moister conditions are forecast to arrive within 72 hours and slow the fire’s spread, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.

WILDFIRE MAP: The Oregonian/OregonLive’s wildfire map helps you track fire activity across the state and the Northwest. Find it here.

Areas of Lane and Deschutes counties were issued Level 3 (go now) orders to evacuate immediately, with nearby areas being told to prepare to leave at a moment’s notice. The Deschutes National Forest and Willamette National Forest implemented emergency closures, and an airspace restriction is in place as fire officials battle the flames from above.

Emergency evacuation shelters have opened for people evacuating areas near the Rum Creek and Van Meter fires in southern Oregon.

Wind gusts of up to 30 miles per hour and possible three-digit temperatures this weekend are expected to fuel the Rum Creek fire in Josephine County. Nearly 1,200 firefighters and personnel are battling the 21,000-acre blaze, which was almost 50% contained by Friday morning. Fire officials believe the area’s hot, dry and windy weather will fan the flames overnight, but the fire is expected to remain within established control lines.

MORE: How to tell if you are at risk of losing power during a shutdown

The Van Meter fire appeared Wednesday about 13 miles southeast of Klamath Falls and had grown to over 3,500 acres by Friday morning. Officials are investigating what caused the fire, which is 0% contained and may grow significantly on Friday due to hot and dry weather. The Bureau of Land Management has issued closure orders around the fire and evacuations are underway in areas of Klamath County.

The American Red Cross has opened overnight shelters at the Josephine and Klamath county fairgrounds for fire evacuees.

The Double Creek fire burning in northeastern Oregon’s Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is currently the state’s largest conflagration, reaching nearly 140,000 acres by Friday morning. Low humidity and strong winds are challenging the nearly 800 firefighters and personnel currently battling the flames, which they had 15% contained on Friday morning. More hot and windy weather is expected to spread the fire north over the weekend

The town of Imnaha north to Snake River at Dug Bar and south to Grouse Creek has been told to evacuate, while residents of nearby areas are encouraged to prepare to leave. Several Wallowa County roads and Highway 30 between mileposts 6 and 29 are closed, except to local traffic. Temporary closures have been implemented in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

Three other lightning-sparked fires – Sturgill, Nebo and Goat Mountain Two – are burning in northeastern Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness, prompting Level 2 (get set) evacuation orders.

The Sturgill fire, located 15 miles southwest of Enterprise, is the largest of the three, at nearly 19,000 acres and 0% containment by Friday morning. Firefighters are working to protect private property in the area as warm and windy weather this weekend threatens to increase the rate of fire spreading to the north. Fire officials expect the Sturgill fire to overrun the 466-acre Goat Mountain Two fire, which is burning 9 miles south of Lostine, before the end of the weekend.

Nearly 12,000 acres are burning about 21 miles southeast of Enterprise in the Nebo fire, which is also expected to spread north over the weekend due to dry, breezy weather.

— Catalina Gaitán; [email protected]; @catalinagaitan_

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