Blaze blackens vital grazing land

By Jayson Jacoby August 20, 2012 10:24 am

By Jayson Jacoby

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Mike Widman needed but a single word to describe what happened to his ranch Sunday.

“Catastrophe.”

A lightning-sparked wildfire spread across 12,500 acres of rangeland about 16 miles southeast of Baker City, including a large swath of the grazing land that Widman and his wife, Coral, own near Love Reservoir.

The Sardine fire is the biggest this summer in what had been a relatively tranquil season for Baker County.

The fire started about 4 p.m., said Mark Wilkening, a spokesman for the BLM’s Vale District.

Mike Widman, whose home ranch is in Baker Valley, said the blaze will make things difficult not only for he and his wife, but for at least half a dozen other families that rely on the burned area for late-season cattle grazing and now will have to find other ways to feed their herds.

“We’ll get through this — we’re tough cow people,” Widman said this morning. “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, though.”

On the positive side of the ledger, Widman said affected ranchers, along with fire crews from several agencies, managed to save all cattle and horses from the flames.

“It was a real community effort,” he said.

The blaze, named for Sardine Creek, has burned public as well as private land.

Crews from the BLM, Oregon Department of Forestry, U.S. Forest Service and multiple local rural fire districts worked on the fire Sunday night, Wilkening said. A helicopter dropped water on the flames as well.

Seven fire engines and one bulldozer were assigned to the fire Sunday, and 15 more engines and three dozers were expected to arrive this morning, Wilkening said.

There are few homes near the fire. Coral Widman said firefighters saved a house just south of Love Reservoir that’s owned by a Hermiston couple who plan to retire there.

Mike Widman said he’s worried that winds this afternoon will push the flames even farther.

“It’s as dry as I’ve seen it in 35 years on that ranch,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get some rain.”