Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

But a pair of fires just across Brownlee Reservoir in Idaho have scorched 25,000 acres

By Jayson Jacoby


Northeastern Oregon continues to be spared the brunt of a wildfire season that is among the worst on record in California and other neighboring states.

Two blazes started by lightning on Thursday on the Idaho side of Brownlee Reservoir have combined to burn 25,200 acres.

The Weiser Complex fire spawned a major smoke plume visible from much of eastern Baker County over the weekend.

Two new fires in Oregon, meanwhile, are noteworthy not for their size but because no one is trying to put them out.

This lack of activity is intentional, though.

The two fires are in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, where a Forest Service policy allows officials to watch, but not necessarily extinguish, lightning-sparked fires under certain conditions.

Generally, such fires are allowed to burn themselves out provided they don't threaten public safety or private property.

The Eagle Cap, Oregon's largest wilderness at 365,000 acres and with just a couple of small parcels of private land within its boundaries, is well-suited for this policy.

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, which manages the Eagle Cap, has allowed at least one lightning fire to burn in the wilderness each of the past 10 summers.

The two fires burning in the Eagle Cap now were both started by lightning on Friday.

One is near High Hat Butte, about 14 miles east of Union. It has burned 60 acres. Firefighters are in the area to monitor that blaze.

The second blaze is about four miles northeast of the High Hat Butte fire, on Katy Mountain between the Minam and North Minam Rivers. It has burned one-tenth of an acre.

The Wallowa-Whitman's wilderness fire policy is designed to allow fires to perform its historic, and natural, role in the forest.

Fire experts say blazes can, in certain situations, help the forest rather than harm it - for instance, by reducing the amount of dead wood and other combustible stuff on the forest floor.

Its the accumulation of that debris, the result of the aggressive firefighting strategy that prevailed for much of the 20th century, that is in part responsible for many of the massive wildfires that have burned across the West over the past 20 years or so.

The Weiser Complex, meanwhile, consists of the Raft fire and the Hells Canyon fire. The Raft fire is the more active, burning in heavy fuels on the Payette National Forest. The fire is about 8 percent contained.

The Hells Canyon fire is 85 percent contained.