Wind, heat could fan wildfire near Sisters

Wind, heat could fan wildfire near Sisters »Play Video

SISTERS, Ore. – Four to six homes near Sisters have been evacuated rather than the 30 reported earlier, but 70 homes remain on alert as a large wildfire spread across central Oregon.

As of Wednesday morning, the fire had grown to more than 4,000 acres. The fire is burning in the Deschutes National Forest and on private lands just south of Sisters and is being fought by about 550 firefighters.

Smoke from the fire can be seen from miles away.

With fires burning from Interstate 5 at the California border to the the John Day River canyon in Eastern Oregon to central Washington's Wenatchee Valley, the Sisters fire is one of only two Pacific Northwest wildfire to force evacuations and burn in the thousands of acres.

In Plainview, about six miles southeast of Sisters, residents were told to pack their things Tuesday. Officials said that one storage outbuilding was destroyed by the fire Monday evening. So far no homes have burned.

From this town, the smoke plume rises just over the hill - as the crow flies a mere 2 miles away. A KATU News crew was escorted into the fire perimeter Tuesday afternoon.

There we saw rough terrain and lots of fuel: sagebrush, ponderosa pine, waves of dried grasses. It turns out that the spring rain, rather than keeping the landscape green, fed thick grasses that – now dry in the summer heat – are acting as "light fuels" for the fire.

That's one of the reasons fire officials are worried about this 2,600-acre blaze. We're told on Monday flames reached as high as 70 feet.

"Anytime that a fire is burning with the erratic fire behavior we had yesterday – it is very dangerous," said Pam Sichting, a spokesperson for this fire. 

What's known as a "scratch line" has been put around the fire – a hastily drawn perimeter that firefighters will use to try to keep the fire contained within.

So far they say the fire is now 20 percent contained but Mother Nature still has the upper hand.

With the area's low humidity, winds picking up in the afternoon and the region's dry fuel, this fire has the potential to be a very destructive fire.

Meanwhile, a Red Cross shelter has been set up at the Sisters Elementary School. Those at the Incident Base will be the ones to determine if residents can return to their homes.

About 200 concerned homeowners turned out to a public meeting Tuesday night - led by Incident Commander Mark Rapp - to have their questions about the fire and its dangers answered.

For recorded information on when residents can return to their homes, call the Deschutes County Sheriff evacuation line at 1 (541) 550-4886.

Our meteorologist's forecast for the Sisters area: