So many wildfires are burning in the Cascades and central Oregon. Today a fire started just south of Highway 20 in the Potato Hill area between the Santiam Junction (of highways 20 and 22) and the Hoodoo ski area.
A new wildfire prompted closure of U.S. Highway 20 west of Santiam Pass and a second closure near Suttle Lake Tuesday afternoon, hours after three new brushfires erupted around the Newberry National Volcanic Monument south of Bend, one prompting evacuations of Lava River Cave and the Lava Lands Visitor Center, authorities said.
Willamette National Forest officials said the fire was reported around 3 p.m. near Potato Hill, around milepost 76 on Highway 20. The fire began on the south side of the highway but jumped the highway and was burning near Lost Lake.
Crews and air resources responded to the fire, estimated late Tuesday afternoon at about five acres, burning in the area of the 2003 B&B Complex Fire, the 90,000-acre blaze that was the largest in Deschutes National Forest history.
Eastbound traffic was being stopped at Santiam Junction and westbound traffic at Santiam Pass. ODOT warned, “This could be a lengthy closure, so travelers should consider using an alternative route, avoid the area or expect delays.”
The other closure was a mile east of the intersection with Suttle Lake Loop.
This is bad.
The only (small) good news is that currently ODOT's TripCheck site is reporting that while Highway 20 is closed to eastbound traffic at Potato Hill, westbound traffic is being let through via a pilot car. Be sure to check for current updates if you plan to travel to or from central Oregon on Highway 20.
[Update: I read the TripCheck report wrong. Just saw a tweet that explains both eastbound and westbound traffic now is being let through via a pilot car, so even better news.]
A Facebook friend who lives in the Sisters area clued me in to the Highway 20 fire and road closure via a post. Some commenters wondered, as I did, about whether there's a non-natural reason for the rash of fires breaking out near roads.
Meaning, someone is starting them on purpose.
Understand: there's no proof of this. Maybe careless people are responsible. Maybe smoldering lightning strikes are coming to life. It just seems strange that several fires in central Oregon started near roads today. The KTVZ story also said:
Meanwhile, three new fires south of Bend were reported around 1 p.m., One fire, Incident 1036, was stopped at two acres and fully lined by late afternoon, with crews working to contain it, said Deschutes National Forest Public Affairs Officer Jean Nelson-Dean.
A second fire burned two miles southeast of Lava Butte, on the east side of Highway 97. It also was lined by late afternoon and crews were working to contain it.
Probably investigators are looking into the possibility of arson. I can't imagine why someone would want to torch Oregon's beautiful forests, but humans are capable of some crazy stuff.
For now, the priority has to be on getting the fires under control. Commenters on the Facebook post painted a disturbing picture of how things are in the Camp Sherman, Black Butte Ranch, and Sisters area.
We should be OK, though lots of smoke/ashes and eerie looking today.
The sun is totally obliterated and it is not even 7:00PM, but very ominous feeling. My deck is covered with ashes.
These fires (including Newberry Crater) seem suspicious to me. Starting independent of other fires, and near highways.