Dying winds and cooler temperatures over the Fourth of July holiday have helped firefighters on the front lines of the Lobster Creek Fire, who now say the wildfire is 55 percent contained and expected to be 100 percent by tonight.
Investigators do not yet know how the fire began, but to date, it has cost $1.48 million and taken 26,000 hours to fight, according to Jefrey Chase of the Oregon Department of Forestry.
According to ODF Incident Management Team public information officer Tom Fields, improved GPS mapping shows the fire is at 397 acres, compared to the 400 to 450 acres estimated during the hectic early days of the initial attack.
The ODF plans to transfer management of the fire back to the Coos Forest Protective Association (CFPA) Sunday.
“Mop-up is slow, dirty and hazardous work that involves methodically digging out residual heat that often lurks in stumps and roots,” Chase said. “Modern technology aids the hunt for hot spots. Night-shift crews use hand-held infrared scanners to find and identify residual heat sources.”
The fire started around 1 p.m. July 1 in the Curry County-owned Lobster Creek Youth Campground, jumped the road and quickly spread into private timber lands, said Sheriff John Ward. Driven by steady winds, it seesawed east and west, burning slowly in the forest undergrowth. A few spot fires were started — caused when wind blows flames into fresh terrain — the largest of them about a quarter-acre, Fields said.
The costs to fight the fire through July 4 came to $956,000; by Thursday, the cost had increased to $1.48 million, or $3,735 an acre.
Fields admitted it could have been much worse, and attributes their success to work done by CFPA firefighters prior to the command being transferred to the state agency.
“A lot of it has to do with (what) we were given from CFPA,” Fields said. “They got a lot of good work done, they got a good line in there, and did a great job of holding it at south end of the fire. This was wind-driven from the north, and they held tight on that. It gave us something great to work with.”
On Wednesday, more than 700 firefighters were on scene, Chase said. By Friday morning, that had been reduced to 275.
“Typically, that means the fire is growing,” he said. “In this case, with much of the fire season still remaining, reinforcements were brought in to eliminate any chance of the fire rekindling and escaping in the future.”
Mop-up operations — including work to prevent a rekindle — started Thursday, with a “goal to seek out and destroy any hot spots” that pose a risk of escape, Chase said.
Sawyers will also cut down burned trees that could fall across containment lines and start new fires, and build lines around some areas within the burn scar that were untouched in hopes of keeping them unscathed, ODF officials said.
“We’ve got a lot of fire season left,” Fields said. “The last thing we want to do is leave and have it restart.”
No structures were burned in the fire, nor were any injuries, he added.
Smoke was thickest the first two days of the fire, but wafted away after that.
The ODF, CFPA and Curry County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the incident, only saying that it was human-caused.
A group of about 20 adults and 20 youth were at a retreat at the popular campground when the fire began, and all were evacuated.
“I have to give credit for the fast response of our local CFPA and fire agencies, along with the logging companies and their equipment, who got on top of the situation and saved Lobster Creek Youth Camp from destruction,” Ward said Tuesday.
The group camped there, called Next Generation Climate Justice Action Camp, teaches youth how to protest on behalf of environmental justice, according to its website. It was hosted by the Civil Liberties Defense Center and Rogue Climate, both active environmental advocates.
Some of the activities planned included how to plan and run environmental campaigns, media outreach skills, non-violent protest planning, “decolonization” and “know-your-rights” trainings, according to a statement on the defense center’s website.
It also says members support “movements that seek to dismantle the political and economic structures at the root of social inequality and environmental destruction,” and provide litigation, education, legal and strategic resources for others interested in doing the same.
Rogue Climate is focused on changing attitudes regarding both humans’ role in, and the effects of, climate change, according to its website. It acts locally to help communities organize to develop clean energy and climate action plans and transition to renewable energy sources.
An art group — Signal Fire — was also slated to participate in the event to teach participants how to make impactful art for protests.
Initially when questioned by sheriff’s investigators, the group told them that, “upon the advice of their attorney, they did not provide any detailed answers regarding how the fire started, Ward said. “It was evident they attempted to extinguish the fire initially … but deputies were only provided very basic information from a few campers on what they saw and the cause of the fire.”
Only Hannah Sohl of Rogue Climate commented, expressing their appreciation for the fast response from firefighters.
“It was a lot of hard work from firefighters out there,” Fields said. “They’re doing a great job. It’s still very difficult. There were a couple of real tough days of wind, pushing on those lines.”
The weather forecast is for cooler temperatures and gentle winds through the weekend.