Dry, windy weather fuels wildfires on coast, near Salem, SW Oregon

Dry, windy weather fuels wildfires on coast, near Salem, SW Oregon »Play Video
A helicopter, barely visible at the top of this photo, drops water on a fire on Onion Peak, which is about one mile from Arch Cape on the Oregon Coast on Friday.

Crews are battling two wildfires on the Oregon coast, another fire near Molalla, Salem and several in Southwest Oregon.

Strong winds and the unusually dry weather helped fuel the flames. The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning until 10 p.m. Friday.

Two fires burned Friday on private timberland southeast of Cannon Beach, the Oregon Department of Forestry said. The Falcon fire burned 80 acres and the Shingle Mill fire covered 30 acres. Both were in logging debris that had been burned recently to prepare the site for replanting. Homes in the Arch Cape area were not threatened.

"I have never experienced this in January," said Ashley Lertora from the Forestry Department's Astoria office. "Usually we have enough rain that burning slash is a safe operation. This time, we just didn't get as much as we expected based on the forecasts."

Dozens of firefighters were called to the area on Thursday night. A KATU photographer reported strong winds in the area.

Fire crews hoped a logging road would help contain the flames, but the winds helped the fire jump the road.

According to the ODF, the Falcon fire started when a logging company set fire to unusable timber. The ODF had approved the burn. But the fire rekindled and weather conditions dramatically changed.

Lertora said the threat to property is low and the strong winds are blowing the fire up the hill and away from the neighborhoods.

A temporary flight restriction is in place while ODF aircraft fight the fires.

Fire near Molalla

The Department of Forestry on Thursday night told KATU a fire northwest of Molalla had grown to about 15 acres.

A photographer at the scene said he had trouble seeing any flames, but he did see plenty of smoke.

There’s been no word of any buildings threatened by the fire.

Southern Oregon fires

Five fires were burning in the Cascades southeast of Salem and three outside Coos Bay, the department said. The biggest was about 200 acres.

In southwestern Oregon, Grayback Forestry President Mike Wheelock sent firefighting crews to two fires rekindled in piles of logging slash.

The Alder Creek Fire has burned 125 acres on private timberland 16 miles north of Shady Cove, and another was contained at 8 acres in the Ashland watershed on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

"These were piles (of logging debris) lit in early December and late November," Wheelock said. "It's quite unusual this time of year to have a holdover that long. It's a sign of the drought conditions we're had."

As winds died down, crews were getting fire line around the Alder Creek fires, said Brian Ballou of the Department of Forestry.

In Coos County, two fires burned outside the community of Remote. The Camas Creek fire was at 40 acres and the Bone Mountain fire was at 300 acres, the Oregon Department of Forestry said. Bulldozers, helicopters, and hand crews fought the fires.

After unusually early rains in the fall that helped quell wildfires from the summer, winter rains have failed to materialize. Storms that would normally soak the state and blanket the Cascades with snow have been shunted to the north by a stubborn ridge of high pressure off the coast. What rains have reached the area have been far less than normal, continuing drought that has persisted since last spring. The U.S. Drought Monitor showed most of the state in severe drought.

Dry east winds blew up Thursday from Clatsop County in the north to Jackson County in the south, where they prompted red flag fire warnings. The warnings were extended Friday to Clatsop County.

"Unusually dry conditions coupled with gusty winds will produce conditions favorable for wildfires to burn out of control," the National Weather Service said.

The city of Astoria asked residents not to do any outdoor burning.

According to the ODF, most of the fires started as controlled burns that flared up because of the dry and windy weather. Most of the fires range in size from 100 to 300 acres.

KATU reporter Dan Cassuto contributed to this report.