Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Photo/Paul Karvoski

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest issued this briefing statement on Tuesday, Aug. 20. It has been edited slightly.

The Big Sheep 2 fire, which started on the Wallowa Valley District and crept over Big Sheep Divide into the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, is approximately six miles south of Imnaha and 19 miles northeast of Joseph. A fire camp has been established at the Joseph Rodeo Grounds.

The fire was detected on August 18, started from lightning, and is currently at 129 acres. This fire is in grassy, steep terrain with small pockets of timber. There’s a lot of private land in both the Big Sheep and Imnaha Creek drainages. Paul Karvoski, Wallowa County emergency services manger, has been in the area since the fire started talking with the private landowners. The local Type 3 Incident Management Team, with Francis Tyler as the Incident Commander, is managing the fire. 

This fire is being suppressed aggressively with water and retardant, with continued aerial support from State of Oregon Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) dropping retardant, helicopters dropping water, and engine and handcrew support where access and terrain permits. This fire was detected by the Sled Springs Initial Attack helicopter while in route to another fire on the Idaho side of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. By reporting this fire while still small, initial attack resources were able to play a significant role in fire suppression.

Firefighter, public, and community health and safety are of the highest priority. Public safety and management of risk guide every decision we make and action we take. Concerns for firefighter safety on this fire include: the remote location, difficult terrain, significant rock rollout, accessibility, continued high temperatures, and local windy conditions. 

As of today, the Team has been successful in containing and suppressing this fire. Mark Moeller, Assistant Fire Management Officer for the Wallowa Fire Zone, stated “The major contributing factors to the success of catching and containing this fire was early detection, availability of aerial resources (SEATs and helicopters), and a break in having excellent relative humidity recovery yesterday morning with a RH of 72 percent.” 

The initial attack on this fire was through aerial resources, which included two Type 1 helicopters, two Type 2 Helicopters, and two SEAT planes.  One of the Type 1 helicopters on the initial attack was from McCall, Idaho, utilizing the Tri-Region agreement for fire resources. The SEATs were funded through new Oregon State legislation passed in June of 2013, through the Wildfire Protection Act. In July, funding was allocated for additional air resources statewide. 

State fire managers have been working for several years to persuade legislatures to spend funding upfront for resources to keep fires small, save private lands, and reduce costs on project fires. “Through a strong partnership and good working relationship with Oregon Department of Forestry, these aerial resources are available and help reduce firefighter exposure, reduce loss to natural resources, and reduce overall financial exposure. These SEATs are very versatile and have become key firefighting resources in this rough and inaccessible terrain,” stated Moeller. 

We do not fight fire alone. Over many years, wildland firefighters in Oregon and Washington have created a system of highly mobile federal, state, tribal cooperator and contractor assets: firefighters, aircraft and equipment.  Forest landowners and community members also play an integral role, contributing local knowledge, experience and equipment on all fires. Teamwork, partnerships and cooperation are essential in managing this fire. 

“We have a lot of values at risk on this fire, such as all the private property in Big Sheep Creek and Imnaha drainages.  The potential for growth on this fire was extreme and we are very thankful for the amazing job of all the firefighters and aerial resources at containing this fire.” reported Kris Stein, District Ranger for Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and Acting Wallowa Valley District. 

If you have questions about this fire, please call:  541-426-5681 and 541-426-5692. Information is also available at: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/3678/ .

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