HEPPNER — Crews have contained more than half the HK Complex fires in the Umatilla National Forest after a weekend of rainfall and cooler temperatures aided their efforts.
“It’s been a solid, cooperative effort,” said public information officer for Northwest Incident Management Team 6 Lauren Maloney.
Overall containment of the fires is at 59%, almost double the reported containment on Saturday morning. A ninth fire was completely extinguished in the complex over the weekend while its largest, the Little Bear/Sulphur Springs fire, remains controlled to the south with mop-up operations happening to the north, according to a press release.
The release also notes an isolated area of unburnt fuel inside its fire lines that will produce heavy smoke over the following days, though Maloney said even high winds fanning the flames is of little concern.
“The worry is if the embers could blow beyond the fire line,” she added.
The storms over the weekend also presented challenges for the crews, which instituted night patrols to check for new potential fires. On Sunday afternoon, a patrol located a new fire within the complex and quickly contained the blaze. The release states that it will be monitored over the coming days.
The temperatures are expected to rise on Monday with low humidity, which Maloney said will allow patrols to watch for hot spots where seemingly subdued fires continue to emit heat and rekindle under the warmer, dryer conditions.
Other operations include mopping up the smaller fires and beginning the process of equipment removal. Crews are also beginning rehabilitory work around the complex, which Maloney said is mostly trying to cover up the paths firefighters have created amid the fighting.
“It’s really to do whatever they can to allow the area to heal as naturally as possible,” she said.
Sunday also consisted of restocking some of the local water sources the crews drew from over the last week. Maloney said some locals pointed out that their ponds had gotten low, and while they were happy to assist in fighting the fires, it could affect them in the fall.
Fire managers announced Monday afternoon they were lowering the fire danger rating and lifting all restrictions on public use, including recreational chain saw use, effective Tuesday.
However, a portion of 21 Road remains closed due to the fire traffic in the area.