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Rain reigns in Wallowa fire
By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
A rainstorm with impeccable timing has halted the fast-moving Anniversary fire southwest of Wallowa.
The storm doused the 225-acre blaze with about a quarter inch of rain overnight, said Matt Reidy, fire management officer for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
"Timing was everything," Reidy said this morning. "This really helped us out."
A total of 200 firefighters, along with five fire engine crews and two bulldozers, were assigned to finished building control lines around the blaze, and start mopping up hot spots, Reidy said.
If warmer, drier weather returns later this week, as meteorologists predict, Reidy said he believes those lines will hold.
"By the time it dries out I think we'll have things pretty well buttoned down," he said.
Reidy's forecast is far brighter than it was just a day ago.
The fire, which is just east of the Minam River Canyon and the Eagle Cap Wilderness, had burned just a few acres when an Oregon Department of Forestry engine crew reported the blaze about 3 p.m. Sunday.
By Sunday evening the fire had burned more than 100 acres. Flames moved north and east, away from the wilderness, but toward private property about a mile away, Reidy said.
"It was moving and gaining acreage pretty quickly," he said.
A weak cold front swept in Sunday evening with strong winds that hampered firefighters' efforts, but without rain or higher humidities to help them, Reidy said.
"At one point we had to pull back the firefighters we had on the fire due to the extreme fire behavior," he said.
He said the Forest Service was fortunate to have four air tankers available to drop retardant ahead of the advancing flames.
Weather continued to thwart fire crews Sunday night and into Monday morning.
Humidity, which tends to rise after dusk, stayed below 35 percent all night, Reidy said.
Humidity is a crucial factor in the Anniversary fire because the blaze is burning in an area loaded with what Reidy calls "fine fuels" grasses, pine needles and the like.
Fine fuels absorb moisture much faster than larger fuels such as downed logs, he said, so the rise in humidity that started Monday afternoon quickly slowed the fire's progress.
Fire officials are still investigating to determine what sparked the Anniversary fire, Reidy said. The top suspect is a lightning strike last week that smoldered for several days.
It's name, by the way, is not connected to last week's 9/11 anniversary.
Rather, the anniversary in question is the wedding anniversary of Nick Lunde, fire management officer for the Wallowa-Whitman's Wallowa Fire Zone.
Lunde and his wife, Angie, celebrated 29 years of marriage on Sunday, Reidy said.