Crews report headway against Oregon wilderness fire

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PORTLAND — Firefighters said Wednesday that they’re making headway against most of the fires in a southern Oregon wilderness area where restrictions against mechanized equipment have been lifted to allow helicopters and chain saws.

But one small fire was giving crews problems because of steep terrain and combustible vegetation such as “decadent manzanitas,” overgrown shrubby trees with a lot of dead branches, said a U.S. Forest Service spokesman, Paul Galloway.

Firefighters were using helicopters to ferry water, supplies and fire crews into the Red Buttes Wilderness Area along the California-Oregon border, and chain saws for such chores as cutting trees that, if burned, could fall across a containment line and spread flames.

Usually, mechanized equipment, including bicycles, is forbidden in areas designated under federal law as wilderness. But the restrictions can be lifted for firefighting, and the Forest Service did so Tuesday in the Red Buttes area southwest of Medford.

Citing dry conditions, the agency said it was trying to keep costs down and keep the fire from escaping.

By late Wednesday, Galloway said three of the six fires were out and crews had built containment lines around a fourth. Two other fires hadn’t been contained.

One, called the Hello fire, was burning on 220 acres of what the Forest Service called “extremely rugged terrain.”

Firefighters reported zero percent containment, meaning they hadn’t been able to begin establishing a line around the fire.

Elsewhere in Oregon, three larger fires were burning, mostly a result of weekend lightning.

Southwest of Lakeview, authorities warned residents of potential hazards from a fire that had grown rapidly the day before, although they didn’t call for an evacuation. Ranchers were moving cattle from the area, fire spokeswoman Lucinda Nolan said. The fire area was more than 2 square miles.

A similar size fire near Sisters was reported smoldering and not growing. Early in the week, it had briefly threatened a subdivision of getaway homes, resulting in an evacuation notice that later was lifted.

Near Vale in eastern Oregon, containment lines were reported around 70 percent of an 8-square-mile fire.

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