All hands on deck

By Devan Schwartz August 22, 2012 09:18 am

With the Sardine Creek fire under control Monday afternoon, firefighters began searching along roads for heat still lingering underground. Hiram Rooper, left, and Shalen Bennion from Council, Idaho, first felt for heat below the surface with gloved hands before digging and dousing the hot spots.
With the Sardine Creek fire under control Monday afternoon, firefighters began searching along roads for heat still lingering underground. Hiram Rooper, left, and Shalen Bennion from Council, Idaho, first felt for heat below the surface with gloved hands before digging and dousing the hot spots.
By Devan Schwartz

This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

The Sardine fire swept across 6,070 acres of Baker County rangeland on Sunday night and Monday.  

The BLM earlier estimated the size at 12,500 acres, a discrepancy the fire’s incident commander attributed to a GPS malfunction.

The fire, which was started by lightning Sunday afternoon near Love Reservoir, about 16 miles southeast of Baker City, was 50 percent contained as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.

A few structures were threatened on private land, though each was saved.

However, several local ranchers had private rangeland burned where they had planned to run cattle this fall.

Kent Justus estimated that 1,500 to 1,800 acres of his land was scorched.

The fire also damaged long stretches of fence.

“Now we’re trying to figure out how to get through the winter,” Justus said. “I’ve got ideas but I don’t like any of them.”

Rancher Bob Harrell figured he’d probably lost a thousand acres, and a mile or more of fence.

“Luckily we’d already grazed the main field this spring,” Harrell said. “It could’ve been worse, could’ve been better. It is what it is.”

Other affected ranchers included Curt Jacobs, Mike Widman and Jeff Phillips.

By Monday afternoon, hand and engine crews worked the perimeter of the blaze, and a helicopter dropped water on hot spots.

 “We worked crews through the night,” said incident commander Al Crouch, of the BLM’s Vale District. “And we got a lot of boots on the ground today (Monday).”

Most crews had worked 14- to 16-hour shifts, he said. Others had worked a full 24 hours straight, not uncommon for the initial attack on a blaze. 

Crouch said firefighters are monitoring nearby sage grouse habitat, as well as patches of medusahead — an explosive fuel and noxious weed with the ability to be spread by vehicles’ tires.

As mop-up activities continue, Crouch recommended the public avoids the Love Reservoir Area, noting a number of people who came out during the initial attack. 

“It gave us a heck of a run, said Gary Timm of Baker County Emergency Management. “Winds were switching every 45 minutes and there were 10- to 12-foot flame heights.”

Timm pointed out spirals of dust in the hills. “Clear skies and dust devils are two signs of unstable atmosphere. And unstable atmosphere can flare up hot spots.” 

Many different agencies helped out with firefighting efforts on the Sardine fire, Crouch said.

“It was all hands on deck.”

He listed the Burnt River Fire Protection Association, Baker County Emergency Management, U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Department of Forestry, as well as local ranchers.

Engines came from North Powder, Eagle Valley, Haines, and the Baker Rural Fire District, and from regional contractors.

“I don’t know of any other county east of the Cascades that has this kind of seamless communication and resource sharing,” Timm said.

The next step, he said, will be completing mop-up efforts and procuring resources to help the affected ranchers.