By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
Hairball knows an earthquake from a sonic boom.
Hairball is Minajean Dailey's cat.
And when Hairball jumped onto Dailey's bed just before 6:30 this morning, then andquot;did two runs around the room,andquot; Dailey figured something strange was going on.
She was right.
At 6:27 a.m., near Love Reservoir about 15 miles east of Baker City, two chunks of the Earth's crust shifted.
That shift, which occurred about three miles below ground, caused an earthquake.
The quake was weak an estimated 3.3 on the Richter scale, according to a preliminary report from the National Earthquake Information Center in Denver.
But the few seconds of mild shaking were sufficient to send Hairball into a temporary frenzy.
Dailey, who lives near Highway 86 about five miles from the epicenter, wasn't certain a quake had occurred until a neighbor, Dawna Daniels, telephoned and said she had read about the quake on the earthquake center's web site.
Dailey said her son, Shondo, who was outside her home attaching a horse trailer to his pickup truck, attributed the rattling to a sonic boom.
Daniels, whose home is next to the highway near the Love Bridge, said she was watching TV and waiting for her pot of coffee to brew when the shaking started.
andquot;I thought somebody had hit the bridge,andquot; she said.
The quake didn't cause any damage at either Daniels' or Dailey's home.
andquot;There was no rocking,andquot; Daniels said. andquot;It was like a rumble, a percussion.andquot; Both Daniels and Dailey said they have felt much stronger quakes Daniels while living in Reno, and Dailey during a trip to Southern California.
andquot;This was a baby,andquot; Daniels said. andquot;I've been in strong ones.andquot; Although a person would have to be relatively close to a magnitude-3.3 quake to feel the shaking, it's not surprising the sensation was so distinct for Daniels and Dailey, said Mark Ferns, regional geologist at the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries office in Baker City.
Not only was the epicenter near the women's homes, but the quake happened closer to the surface than many temblors, Ferns said.
The shallower the depth, the more likely people will feel a quake, he said.
Ferns suspects the quake occurred along a fault a gap between sections of crust that runs east-west near Love Reservoir.
Although geologists have not studied that fault in detail, Ferns said it's likely that past movements along the fault created both the valley in which the reservoir lies, and the ridge that looms above it to the south.
Because they haven't studied the fault, geologists don't know how strong an earthquake could potentially occur along it, Ferns said.
What they do know, however, is that Baker County's Panhandle has been one of Oregon's more seismically active regions over the past decade.
A network of more than a dozen seismometers detected hundreds of small quakes in the area, the strongest one a magnitude-3.9 recorded in 1994.
Residents in the Pine and Eagle valleys have felt several quakes during the past 10 years.
Jim Zollweg, the Boise State University geologist who monitored the seismometer network, said a shortage of money forced him to shut down the network about two years ago.
He said he hopes to reactivate the seismometers, which would allow scientists to gather more detailed data about quakes in the Panhandle.
This morning's quake was detected by more distant seismometers.
Zollweg set up the network, which at one time consisted of seven seismometers in Baker County and 12 in Idaho, to determine whether any local faults could spawn quakes that could damage Idaho Power Company's hydroelectric dams along the Snake River.
One of the main faults runs beneath Brownlee Dam.
But for all the attention on the Panhandle, it's not the only part of Baker County susceptible to shaking.
andquot;I wouldn't be surprised to have a (magnitude) 3.3 quake anywhere in that region, based on previous trends,andquot; Zollweg said.
Ferns said faults criss-cross most of the county; however, like the Love Reservoir fault, most have never been studied.
One of those faults runs along the eastern base of Elkhorn Mountains, and another along the sagebrush ridge that rises above Baker City's southwest corner.
Ian Madin, a state geologist who used to work in Baker City, said he believed the latter fault could produce earthquakes as strong as 6.5 on the Richter scale.
But he hastens to say that it's impossible to predict how often such quakes might occur along the fault, or when the last strong temblor happened.
Neither Daniels nor Dailey was especially concerned about this morning's exciting and unexpected start.
andquot;This wasn't scary it was more of an amusement,andquot; Daniels said.
And Dailey said the rattling created quite a wildlife show for her son.
andquot;He got a good count on the pheasants,andquot; she said. andquot;They were flying all over the place.andquot;