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Aug-31-2009 12:41printcomments

600 Firefighters Battling Canal Creek Fire

The next few days are forecast to have a warming and drying trend, which will do little to help these crews battle the fire.

The Canal Creek Fire
The Canal Creek Fire
Photos by Gerrit Roelof

(SALEM, Ore.) - “This is the largest fire camp we’ve seen in at least 30 years” according to one employee at the Sweet Home Ranger District.

The Incident Base Camp, set up at Lewis Creek County Park, is responsible for over 600 firefighters and personnel working the Canal Creek Fire.

A new challenge has presented itself for these fire crews, and that is road safety. Travel to and from the scene is via the Quartzville Rd (Forest Road 11), a popular recreation corridor especially at this time of year.

This area sustains a large amount of dispersed recreation sites, according to Public Information Officer Jennifer O’Leary of the US Forest Service. Fire crews have reported heavy traffic on this road, with some vehicles travelling at unsafe speeds and even crossing into on-coming traffic.

Safety is the top priority for everyone involved in this incident, both on the road and on the fire line. All citizens in the area are strongly urged to proceed cautiously and give fire crews the access they need to get this fire under control as soon as possible.

Many roads remain closed in this area, most notably a 14 mile stretch of the Quartzville Rd from Road 1131 to Road 1133. With the archery season opener for deer and elk this past weekend, hunters must also use caution in this area.

Fire managers have addressed this travel issue by stationing approximately 250 firefighters at spike camps closer to the incident, in order to shorten their travel distance and time to the fire. Even boaters on Detroit Lake are affected by this fire, since the Kinney Creek arm of the Lake is closed so that helicopters can draw water for firefighting.

Salem-News visited the base camp on Sunday evening to get a first hand view of the operation. The NW Oregon Type II Incident Management Team under the command of Pam Ensley has now assumed control of this incident.

Photos of the Canal Fire by Gerrit Roelof,

With over 600 firefighters and personnel, along with a variety of resources including dozers, helicopters, water tenders, engines and multiple handcrews from around the region, this is a complex operation.

With those resources comes a higher level of support operations as well. One resource now in service is infrared imagery, which has determined that the actual fire area is 283 acres. With some spot fires already identified, and “slop over” occurring in some areas, that figure could change.

On the fireline, we spoke with Engine Captain Daniel Preston of the McKenzie River Ranger District. He was among the first firefighters to arrive at this incident on Wednesday evening. According to Preston the fire was at 35 acres and actively burning upon their arrival. With slopes at a grade of 70% or more on fire, access was extremely limited and physically challenging.

This is one reason why air support has been critical to this operation. The helicopters operating here are “heavy’s”, capable of lifting 1,000 gallon buckets of water at a time. An un-confirmed report stated that they were dumping water on the fire at a rate of 10,000 gallons per hour at one point. This steep terrain also promotes some extreme fire behavior.

We visited one area with a very steep valley which the fire used to blow up the draw like a chimney, and “nuked” the entire area, according to Preston. What remained when the smoke cleared was a steep hillside with nothing larger than a scorched stump still standing.

During the first three days of the fire, Preston reported hearing about one tree fall every 2 minutes from the fire. This has caused the fire to work back down these steep slopes, as the fallen timber “toboggan’s” down the hill.

For this reason the bottoms of these hills are a very dangerous place to be, and some areas have been completely evacuated by fire crews for this reason.

The next few days are forecast to have a warming and drying trend, which will do little to help these crews battle the fire. Later in the week rain could arrive, which would be a welcome relief for these hardworking men & women. Due to their extraordinary efforts, no structures or communities are currently considered threatened. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

When time allows, Gerrit and his family make the break to the Detroit Lake area and other parts of Oregon where hunting and fishing are the order of the day. Gerrit has a way with words that is drawn from both education and life experience. While Gerrit has a full time career in law enforcement and firefighting before that, he has also taken the time to polish his natural skills at delivering written and visual information. He used to have an outdoor column in the South Salem Post. He has also written regular articles for Oregon Fishing & Hunting News and Gerrit's experience in life is both awe-inspiring and honorable. Gerrit is likable, uniquely qualified, energetic and down to earth. He helps fill the void when it comes to articles about all of the amazing things Oregon has to offer those who have a connection with nature; be it through hiking, fishing, photography, hunting, or so many other outdoor activities here.

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Gerrit Roelof September 1, 2009 11:48 am (Pacific time)

Steen - From the current information, it looks like the 2212 (Kinney Creek Rd) is still closed from the south end of Detroit Dam to the Quartzville Rd. The 2202 (Monument Peak Rd) is closed from it's south-eastern end at the fire until it leaves the National Forest Boundary, which looks to be a 4 mile stretch that ends around the Monument Peak area. Hope that helps.

Steen September 1, 2009 9:05 am (Pacific time)

I heard that there have been more road closures on the Gates side of this fire. I'd like to know if the 2202 or 2212 roads have been closed. If anyone has a link to confirm or deny, I'd appreciate it. Thanks S-N for keeping us up on this important story.

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