Smoke from Oregon fires | NevadaAppeal.com

Smoke from Oregon fires

by staff and wire reports

Fires in Oregon are sending smoke south into Western Nevada’s valleys.

According to the National Weather Service, winds aloft are sending the smoke down into Northern Nevada.

Mark Deutschendorf of the National Weather Service said visibility is at seven miles.

Deutschendorf, a meteorologist, does not expect the smoke to clear from Western Nevada valleys until Monday, when more southerly winds pick up.

“It looks like we will have a similar flow pattern without much strong wind until Monday at the earliest,” he said.

Strong winds continued to blow through the Columbia River Gorge on Friday, pushing a fire closer to this city and leading officials to advise the evacuation of 270 homes.

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The Sheldon Ridge Fire was burning 5,800 acres and was about 3Y miles southwest of the city. It was threatening rural homes and ranches perched on a grassy bluff above the Columbia River.

Gov. John Kitzhaber toured the fire from a military helicopter Friday morning and spoke with the fire management team. Gray smoke billowed from the gorge, with Mount Hood and Mount Adam just visible in the distance.

“This is a very, very serious situation for the state in terms of risk for property and life,” Kitzhaber said of the 16 major fires burning statewide.

Meanwhile, firefighters in California were optimistic they could complete fire breaks to keep flames away from all threatened groves of giant sequoias in Giant Sequoia National Monument, officials said.

The California fire, which grew to 60,000 acres Friday, was sparked Sunday by a Bakersfield woman’s campfire, according to U.S. Forest Service officials. Peri Van Brunt, 45, was arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in Fresno on felony charges of unlawfully starting the fire.

In Oregon, city firefighters from Portland, Salem and Polk County were sent to The Dalles by mandate of the Conflagration Act, which allows the governor to ask for assistance of local firefighters when wildfire resources get low, said Jocelyn Biro, spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

Though the firefighters work in urban areas, they are also trained to fight wildfires, said Neil Heesacker, spokesman for the Portland Fire Bureau.

“I think we’re OK from the manpower standpoint, but our biggest deficit now is air power,” Kitzhaber said.

The wind Friday raced down the Columbia River Gorge, whipping up whitecaps on the river. It was expected to reach speeds of 15 to 35 mph hour later in the day. The blaze burned through Ponderosa pine and white oak in the valleys and across sagebrush on the bluffs.

“That’s what makes wind surfing so great here in the gorge — the West winds that we get,” said Michael Ferris, a U.S. Forest Service official helping with the fire.

An evacuation center was set up at St. Peter’s Church in The Dalles, but no one was staying there Friday morning, said Annadale Rooper, disaster chairman of the Columbia Gorge Chapter of the Red Cross.

“Last night, the smoke was real heavy over town. We could smell it. It is terribly scary,” said Rooper, who owns a home in the downtown area.

The fire exploded Thursday from 150 acres when air support was diverted to the White River Fire, which was threatening the town of Maupin in Central Oregon, Ferris said.

About 350 firefighters battled the fire near The Dalles, with 800 expected by nightfall. And 125 soldiers from the Oregon National Guard were expected to arrive Saturday.

Earlier Thursday, a special investigation team went to Oregon’s biggest wildfire to find out why 20 firefighters had to climb into their emergency shelters to escape flames.

Flames overran a Willamette Valley crew known as Ferguson 53 on Wednesday afternoon while they were fighting spot fires on the northern edge of the Winter Fire just off Oregon Highway 31. Eleven firefighters were treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation and released from St. Charles Medical Center in Bend.

A total of 16 major fires, all started by lightning, were burning across 232,983 acres in Oregon, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. More than 10,000 firefighters battled the blazes.

In Klamath County, the Skunk Fire quickly grew to 1,700 acres about 17 miles southeast of Chiloquin, where it threatened two unincorporated subdivisions.

At the 15,000-acre White River Fire, near Maupin in Wasco County, crews worked to save a handful of homes outside the town. The town itself was not in immediate danger, said Mayor Sherry Holliday.