Blaze triggers evacuations
Lookout Fire impacts people on North side of Hwy. 126
August 17, 2023 | View PDF
Firefighting resources including aircraft, road machinery, and personnel have all been flowing into the area to fight the growing Lookout Fire. The blaze, which grew to 1, 200 acres on Tuesday morning, caused Oregon Governor Tina Kotek to invoke the Emergency Conflagration Act in response to its projected $2 million plus impacts on the local area. That move has resulted in fire personnel from multiple agencies, emergency managers, and the Lane County Sheriff’s Office all working together.
At a meeting Saturday night at McKenzie High School officials outlined some of their strategies for limiting the fire’s growth as well as the particular challenges posed by its point of origin within the old growth environment of the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest.
Part of the program addressed what was found on May 5th after the lightning ignited the fire on the Northwest side of Lookout Mountain, about 3 miles North of McKenzie Bridge. The initial plan, according to Joe Powell, the USFS incident manager, was to attack the fire directly. That changed, he said, “based on the overhead danger and the angle of the slope.” Another real concern was the estimated 5 hours or more it would take to evacuate anyone who might become injured, even though it was only 1 to 3 acres at that time.
Other challenges included access to the area, an old-growth forest that hadn’t been affected by fires in several decades.
Over the following 5 days, there had been some elements that improved prospects. Emergency suppression lines were set up, noted Danny Gallagher, who also pointed out that 35 miles had been scouted if other indirect lines were needed. Other groundwork has included the creation of an incident command post at the McKenzie Bridge Airstrip as well as camping and feeding areas for the firefighters.
Air operations were moved to a helibase closer to the fire incident to accommodate 3 heavy firefighting craft and 1 reconnaissance chopper. As of Saturday, Gallagher said air crews had already dropped 77,735 gallons of water on the fire.
Providing some local insights was Upper McKenzie Fire Chief Rainbow Plews, who noted, “We’ve all done this before,” referencing the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire. She noted some things, though, were more positive.
“One of them is we’re actually having this meeting,” she said. “In 2020 we did not have that luxury. We have the blessing right now of a time window and I want to stress to everyone that you can help us best by helping yourselves.”
Plews went on to note that area residents are likely to see fire personnel - both local and from some of the structural inspection teams that have responded from other areas - visiting different neighborhoods. The assessments they’re making, she added, are an indication of the important role saving structures has played in the overall fire response.
She also reminded people that Upper McKenzie Fire will continue to respond to 9 11 calls, “just as we always do. We’ll be helping people with medical problems or things like small fires in toasters.”
“The Lookout Fire has been growing rapidly due to the dry, windy conditions in Lane County,” Oregon State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple said in a statement Monday. “The next few days are very concerning with continued red flag conditions.”
The Lane County Sheriff’s Office has issued a Level 3 or “go now” evacuation order in place for residents on Taylor Road and North Bank Road, all areas north of Highway 126 between Blue River Reservoir Road and Drury Lane, plus the Mona and Lookout campgrounds, and the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest headquarters.
7 crews totaling 350 personnel were assigned to the fire, along with 3 engines, 3 bulldozers, 3 water tenders, and 4 helicopters.
In a Tuesday update officials were advising people to expect continued active fire behavior with medium-range spotting to the west and southwest, with uphill runs and flanking at moderate to active spread rates. Rollouts were expected on steep slopes that could help spread the fire to the north, west, and south.
Updates on the Lookout Fire are available at: tinyurl.com/4cp27dnz