Firefighters battling the Cedar Creek fire are praying for rain this weekend, and hopefully the right amount.
The approaching rainy weather is expected to mark the beginning of the end of the Cedar Creek Fire, which has been burning west of Oakridge since being struck by lightning on August 1. Rain may cool the interior of the fire, reducing the smoke conditions affecting parts of Oregon and firefighting resources will begin to demobilize.
Fire managers are “cautiously optimistic,” according to Eric Hendrickson, public information officer for the 12th Northwest Command. But Hendrickson said firefighters aren’t speculating about the weather, so they’re still working.
“This time of year, you’re always looking for it. But you can’t count on it, either,” Hendrickson said. “Even though it’s in the forecast, we still have to be prepared so that it doesn’t produce what we think.”
The Cedar Creek Fire was estimated to be 126,690 acres and 50% contained with 555 people on Thursday.
A few days of rain can help fuel the fire. Firefighters have struggled to access parts of the fire since it broke out due to steep slopes and other dangerous conditions.
Much of the smoke from the Cedar Creek Fire in recent weeks has come from domestic fires, and a reduction in such fire activity could mean relief for the smoke-plagued Oakridge area as well as parts of Lane County to the west.
“We’re looking forward to the rain tomorrow evening and really hoping it affects how much smoke from the Cedar Creek Fire,” Travis Knudsen, a spokesman for the Regional Weather Protection Agency, said Thursday morning.
Because fire activity inside the fire is still high, Knudsen said smoke may continue to affect the area for some time.
“What this means is that while there are periods of better air quality in the Oakridge-Westfair area, smog is expected to be present in those communities,” Knudsen said. “We expect there will be less smoke and less of an impact on air quality, but there is still a chance that smoke will be in the region as it moves into next week.”
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Fire managers were waiting for cooler temperatures Thursday as a ridge of high pressure began to break through the region. That trend was expected to continue Friday, bringing 1-2 inches of rain to the region between Friday and Sunday.
There is a chance of 4 inches or more of snow in the highlands on Saturday.
Crews were still assigned to patrol and cleanup operations around the fire area Thursday. Hendrickson said firefighters are still working to reopen roads and clear hazards, efforts that could be hampered if the rain comes.
“The rain is definitely what we need,” Hendrickson said. “The worrisome part is that if there’s too much at one time, it’s going to cause some of the sediment to be washed away from burned slopes and things like that.”
While those weather conditions could moderate the fire, Hendrickson said too much rain could pose a danger to firefighters.
“If they’re on the line in this weather event, it could directly affect their safety,” Hendrickson said.
Firefighters have had a tough few weeks with the Cedar Creek Fire recently due to easterly winds, smoky conditions and hot temperatures. Easterly winds hit the containment lines last week, and areas on the southeast side of the fire needed regular water drops. There was also a new fire on the eastern side, which was extinguished by smokestacks.
“It was a challenge. There were certain areas where we definitely had to move some resources from other areas to make sure we had everything in place if needed, and that was it,” Hendrickson said. “There were indications that we should have more people in the southeast than in the west, where we had a lot of action going on.”
When it rains and fire activity decreases, Hendrickson said the reduction in smoke is probably the first thing people notice. Over time, the amount of resources devoted to fires will decrease and management will return to local control.
Lane County spokesman Devon Ashbridge said county officials will monitor the effects of future rain.
“We’re absolutely expecting rain,” Ashbridge said. “Once we see the actual impact of the weekend’s rain, we will be able to evaluate those Level 1 evacuation notices that are still in effect in the area.”
Contact reporter Adam Duvernay at [email protected] Follow @DuvernayOR on Twitter.