Rock Creek fire

The Rock Creek fire on Aug. 31, 2021.

The Rock Creek fire in the Elkhorn Mountains about 13 miles northwest of Baker City is 75% contained, and it has not grown beyond the estimated 60 acres that burned on Aug. 30, the day the blaze was reported.

The 25% of the fire perimeter that lacks control lines is in rocky terrain so steep that it’s not accessible, Peter Fargo, public affairs officer for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, said on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

Firefighters will continue to check for hotspots every other day this week, with help from a helicopter, Fargo said.

The Rock Creek Lake trail, No. 1626, remains closed.

The fire was reported about 3 p.m. on Aug. 30 in the upper part of the Rock Creek canyon, a remote section near the center of the Elkhorns about 1 1/4 miles northwest of Rock Creek Lake.

There are no roads within one mile of the fire, and it was too dangerous on the afternoon and evening of Aug. 30 to bring in firefighters by helicopter, fire officials said.

But five airplanes dropped fire retardant, and two helicopters dumped water on the flames that day, the pilots taking advantage of cliffs and rockslides that served as natural fire barriers.

The Rock Creek canyon, which runs roughly north-south, is bordered on the west by cliffs, with the Elkhorn Crest trail running just on the west side of the ridgetop.

Fire bosses were concerned because the fire was initially torching trees and spreading from crown to crown on the warm, windy afternoon. The blaze burned mostly in subalpine fir trees, a species that burns easily.

By the afternoon of Sept. 1, though, the fire was showing minimal growth, and that situation has prevailed since, Fargo said.

The Forest Service is investigating the cause of the fire, but it is listed as human-caused on the Blue Mountain Interagency Dispatch Center’s fire statistics report.

The Rock Creek fire is by far the biggest blaze this summer on the Wallowa-Whitman’s Burnt-Powder Fire Zone, which includes the southern part of the forest.

There have been 17 fires on the Burnt-Powder zone — 13 started by lightning and four human-caused. The lightning fires have burned a total of 4.5 acres, and the human-caused fires 63.7 acres.

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