Evacuations ordered as firefighters battle spreading Miller Fire in Wasco County

The Wasco County Sheriff’s Office told some people to flee and others to pack a bag or to be aware of a potential danger

By: and - August 3, 2022 5:27 pm

With the Rum Creek fire in Josephine County and others raging in Oregon and hot, dry and windy weather conditions, elecrric companies warn of power shutoffs. 2021 file photo. (Northwest Interagency Coordination Center)

UPDATED: Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022 at 9 p.m.

Firefighters rushed to Wasco County on Wednesday to battle a brush fire that spread from 1,000 to more than 10,000 acres in 24 hours.

The Miller Fire, 13 miles west of Maupin, is threatening buildings and people. The Wasco County Sheriff’s Office ordered the evacuation of some residents – a level 3 evacuation order – and told others to be ready to leave – level 2 – and others to be aware of the fire – level 1.

“This is a wind-driven fire,” according to a post on the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, which tracks Northwest fires. “The fire is burning in heavy dry fuels including grass, shrubs and juniper.”

The interagency said crews are evaluating the perimeter of the fire along Oregon 216, which remained open. 

“The primary focus is protecting structures and attacking the east and south flank,” the agency said.

Officials set up a shelter at Dufur High School at 802 N.E. Fifth St. and opened the fairgrounds for livestock and people.

The Fort Dalles Riders Club about 40 miles north of Maupin along the Columbia River has offered to take in horses. Glen Harding who runs the Riders Club said he hasn’t gotten any requests.

“This is a community deal, and we’re trying to help each other,” he said. 

It was not immediately clear how many people had to flee their homes. 

Others, like Cali Rocha, packed their bags. She helps shuttle fishermen, rafters and campers to spots along the Deschutes River from her office in Maupin, where residents are under a level 2 evacuation order.

Rocha says it’s not terribly smokey in town, but the wind picked up Wednesday afternoon, causing concern. She has a “go-bag” ready should she need to flee.

“They have us all on hold at the moment,” she said. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 12 hours.”

She said a few of the groups she’s shuttled south of Maupin on the river were contacted by the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday night and told they should be prepared to leave. Several chose to do so. 

“We haven’t had a lot of fires in the last couple years on the actual river so there’s lots of vegetation and it’s been so hot there’s just lots of kindling,” Rocha said.

Officials expect dry conditions through Wednesday evening with a high of 97 degrees during the day, low humidity and west winds up to 15 miles an hour and gusts up to 22 miles an hour. 

More than 120 firefighters and other personnel are at the scene. The Oregon Fire Marshal’s Office mobilized six county task forces, including from Hood River County, Polk County, Columbia County, Lane County and Klickitat County in Washington State. A fire task force is made up of about 13 firefighters, fire engines and tenders, which carry water to the scene.

The mobilization followed a conflagration declaration by Gov. Kate Brown late Tuesday.

“I have invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act to make more state resources available to the fire crews on the front lines in Wasco County at the Miller Road/Dodge Fire,” Brown said in a statement. “With many fires actively burning across the state and several weeks of peak fire season ahead of us, I am urging all Oregonians to be prepared and do their part to help prevent wildfires – just one spark can light a fire that will quickly spread.”

Detailed information was not available on Wednesday as the crews assembled at the site, called Juniper Flat. The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center said officials were assessing potential structural damages. 

“Right now we ask that folks who live in the area to monitor the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office social media accounts for evacuation information,” John Hendricks, a spokesman for the Fire Marshal’s Office, said in an email.

Lightning continues to pummel the Umpqua National Forest east of Roseburg, causing the ignition of 20 fires in recent days. The largest is the Windigo Fire east of the Lemolo Reservoir, the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center said. Officials are flying over the area, looking for smoke.

Fire crews have also battled blazes in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, which stretches from southwestern Oregon to northern California. The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center said firefighters have contained five fires and are working on two more.

In northern California, the McKinney Fire in the Klamath National Forest remains uncontained. It has burned more than 56,000 acres, has caused four deaths, destroyed buildings and threatens more than 4,500 other structures.

Amid the California fires, the Oregon Department of Agriculture lifted regulations on bringing animals into Oregon. It said in a release that the department is exempting all import requirements for pets and livestock for owners who are under any level of an evacuation order. However, owners have to notify the Oregon state veterinarian by emailing [email protected] or by calling 503-986-4680 within 72 hours of entry.

Notification must include:

  • Owner’s name and phone number.
  • Complete address of the owner who had to evacuate.
  • Complete address of where the owner and animals will be in Oregon.
  • Name and phone number of a contact for the animals in Oregon.
  • Name and species of animals evacuated.

The animals can only stay in Oregon for 30 days. If they’re not returned by the deadline, the owner must notify the state veterinarian at 503-986-4680 before the month is up.

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.

Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.