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Heat wave 'likely to drive increased fire behavior and fire growth' on Mount Jefferson

Photos of the Whitewater Fire burning in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness of Oregon (USDA Forest Service)

DETROIT, Ore. - A wildfire that forced the closure of a popular backpacking destination and an 11-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail has grown to nearly 300 acres, the USDA Forest Service said Tuesday.

The Whitewater Fire started in June with a lightning strike. The fire smoldered in obscurity before hot, dry weather and breezy conditions fanned the flames into a forest fire. Smoke from the fire was first spotted July 23 by a commercial jet.

The fire stood at 297 acres on Tuesday and 10 percent contained.

“Our objectives include confining the fire close as possible to the wilderness and protecting general forest and adjacent private forests,” said Eric Knerr, Incident Commander.

Five helicopters are dropping water to slow the fire’s spread.

The heat wave could cause the fire to grow.

“A ridge of usually strong high pressure is expected to bring very hot, dry and unstable conditions to the fire area today and the next couple of days," a meteorologist assigned to the fire reports. "Temperatures at the fire line (elevation 5400’) will climb to the low 90s with very low humidity. These conditions are likely to drive increased fire behavior and fire growth.”

A total of 175 people are working the fire.

Crews are working with heavy equipment outside the wilderness to prepare contingency firelines in case the fire escapes the wilderness boundary, the Forest Service said.

Drivers should use caution on Highway 22 near Whitewater Road and Hoodoo Ski Resort due to fire traffic in the area.

For hikers and backpackers, the popular Jefferson Park area is closed as of Monday.

Trail and road closures include:

  • Whitewater Trail #3429 is closed from its origin to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail #2000.
  • Cheat Creek Trail #3441 is closed from its origin to the junction with the Triangulation Trail #3373.
  • Triangulation Trail #3373 is closed from its junction with trail #3374 (near Triangulation Peak) to the terminus at Whitewater Trail #3429.
  • Crag Trail #3364 from its origin to the terminus at the Triangulation Trail #3373.
  • Pacific Crest Trail (#2000) North of Woodpecker Trail (#3442) to Breitenbush Lake.
  • South Breitenbush Trail (#3375) East of Bear Point Trail (#3342) up to the PCT (#2000).
  • Forest Service Road 2243, Whitewater Rd. (at Highway 22) is closed to avoid conflicts with fire traffic.

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