PORTLAND — Oregon’s wildfire season started on a traumatic note as a van carrying 10 wildland firefighters collided with a commercial truck Tuesday, injuring everyone aboard, and a blaze moving through the southeastern part of the state reportedly killed cattle as it expanded to more than 50,000 acres.
A cool, wet spring has led to predictions of a relatively calm wildfire season in the Pacific Northwest. An exception is the dry, southeast corner of the state, where two lightning-sparked wildfires are burning in sage and grass land.
The Long Draw Fire, the larger of the two, has spread to at least 80 square miles. No homes have been lost in the sparsely populated area, but there were reports of burned barns, cattle and electric transmission lines.
Mark Wilkening, a Bureau of Land Management spokesman in Vale, said additional fire crews were reporting, but strong winds, low humidity and temperatures topping 100 degrees should spread the fire in the coming days.
“We know it’s grown in acreage, but nobody has an accurate idea of how many acres it actually is,” he said.
Jeanette Yturriondobeitia, co-owner of 12-Mile Ranch, west of Basque Station, told the agricultural publication Capital Press that a dozen of her cattle had been killed and others would be put down because of burns and smoke inhalation.
“We came back from moving cattle in the middle of the night and found seven pumper trucks lined up defending our haystack and house,” she said.
Wilkening said the area is prime habitat for the sage grouse and is also home to wild horses. Thousands of acres of winter and summer range lands have been lost.
Meanwhile, a wildfire near Frenchglen has expanded to at least 12,000 acres and threatens three homes, said Tara Martinak, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management in Burns. The Miller Homestead fire closed a section of Oregon 205 on Tuesday afternoon and was 10 percent contained.
Carol Connolly, spokeswoman at the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland, said Oregon upgraded to Preparedness Level 3 on Monday, an indication that fire risk is increasing. Five is the highest level.
Preparedness Level 3 means the state will be less apt to send firefighting crews to other states: “It’s basically saying we have to keep what we have because we need it,” she said.
Smaller wildfires have been reported in Central, Southern and northeastern Oregon.
“None of (the major fires) are in the big, timbered areas, because the fuels there are still quite wet,” Connolly said.
The Oregon Department of Forestry announced that its districts in northwestern Oregon, the wettest part of the state, will enter wildfire season today, and the south-central region will move from moderate to high fire danger Thursday. The designations require logging companies to take extra precautions.