Monument fire grows

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By JAYSON JACOBY

Of the Baker City Herald

The Monument fire burned hotter Wednesday than any day since Saturday.

The lightning-caused blaze about nine miles south of Unity charred 6,000 acres Wednesday, bringing the total to 24,700 acres since the fire started six days ago.

Flames were hottest Wednesday at the fire's northwest corner, where they reached stands of readily combustible dead lodgepole pine in the Bear Creek area, said Don Ferguson, information officer at the Monument fire camp at Unity Schools.

andquot;Fire activity is expected to remain extremeandquot; in that area today, Ferguson said.

Those heavy fuels, as much as the dry, hot weather, were responsible for the fire's largest run since it spread over 17,000 acres on Saturday, he said.

The fire did not grow at all Sunday or Monday, when temperatures were slightly cooler and winds lighter.

Although fire officials estimated the blaze is 5 percent contained the same as Wednesday Ferguson said fire lines on the north and east flanks are andquot;holding and pretty secure.andquot;

And firefighters and firefighting machines continue to roll (or fly) into Unity.

As of this morning 268 people were assigned to the fire, about 50 more than on Wednesday.

Resources include 100 Hot Shot crew members, 20 fire engines and nine bulldozers.

Ferguson said officials expect two helicopters to arrive today, including a andquot;heavyandquot; craft that can dump about 2,000 gallons of water per load.

The other chopper is a andquot;mediumandquot; version that carries about 300 gallons, Ferguson said.

Also, a battalion of U.S. Army troops from Fort Riley, Kan., is scheduled to arrive in Unity on Monday.

That contingent will include about 500 firefighters, as well as 150 or so support personnel, Ferguson said.

They'll bring along six or seven helicopters, including a Chinook that can haul a whopping 3,000 gallons of water at a time, he said.

andquot;By this time next week we'll have more than 1,000 people here,andquot; Ferguson said.

Busy fire season in Oregon

Fire bosses probably would already have that many firefighters in Unity but for the several other large blazes burning across Oregon and Washington, Ferguson said.

The Monument fire ranks 9th on the priority list for firefighters, he said. That means eight other fires pose a greater risk to people and property, he said.

Ferguson acknowledged that the 9th-place ranking might surprise people who have read or heard televised reports stating that the Monument fire could grow to 100,000 acres and force Unity residents to evacuate.

He said that's the andquot;worst-case scenario,andquot; one fire officials are required to evaluate when they take control of a fire.

andquot;Most likely we won't get to our worst case,andquot; Ferguson said. andquot;I see that as a very remote threat.andquot;

The fire is about nine miles from Unity, and between the town and the flames are long stretches of fields, some of them irrigated.

andquot;There's not much to burn around (the town),andquot; Ferguson said.

Fire officials have prepared a andquot;protection planandquot; to defend homes and other structures if necessary, including about 75 residences along the U.S. Highway 26 corridor south of Unity.

Just two or three city residents have attended the daily briefing session at 5 p.m. at the school, he said, and none has expressed any concern about the fire advancing on the town.

Brian Bradford, Unity city recorder, said Wednesday that he was not aware of any residents preparing to leave.

andquot;There's always a possibility (the town could be threatened) if the fire blows up, but at this point there's no imminent danger,andquot; Bradford said.

Ferguson pointed out that longtime Unity residents are accustomed to seeing smoke on the high ridges that form the southern skyline.

Big fires burned in the Monument Rock Wilderness in 1989 and 1996.

andquot;People here have seen it before,andquot; Ferguson said.

The Monument fire poses a more immediate threat to several structures, including the Table Rock lookout and the Short Creek Guard Station.

On Wednesday flames reached a rock outcropping almost on the lookout's doorstep, but the historic wooden building, constructed in 1949, was spared, Ferguson said.

Fire officials intended to try to protect the lookout by wrapping it with fire-resistant shelters, but the flames beat firefighters to the building Wednesday, he said.

They are covering the guard station and a nearby private cabin with fire shelters, Ferguson said.

Both structures are near Forest Road 13 on the southwest corner of the fire.

13004804
The Baker City Herald
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