Fire on the Deschutes

Fire on the Deschutes

Some of you have heard that we had a fire blow up on the Deschutes over the weekend. If you want to know how it will impact your fishing, the answer is that it will not impact it in any way. It is still smoldering but it has moved away from the river and is now nearly under control. We had little to no smoke in Maupin, some on the river, but that is now long gone. It is sunny out here and you would never even have a hint of what happened to us three days ago. (Though, I may have PTSD)


The fire started on the edge of the railroad (probably by a faulty wheel on a train throwing sparks) just upstream of Harpham Flat at around 2:00 PM on Saturday, June 22. The wind was blowing pretty hard that day, and the dry grasses made it possible for the fire to really get going. The fire built up over the course of the day on Saturday as volunteer fire crews made huge efforts to keep it from climbing into the wheat fields and grassy flats above the river. A couple of helicopters came on the scene in the late afternoon and started dipping into the river to strategically pour water on the flames. By about 8:00 PM the helicopters had to call it quits because the wind was so intense. 

Saturday night was NOT a good night. My house looks out over Wapinitia Canyon where I could see nothing but a wall of flames spread across the mouth of the canyon. The wall of flame continued to grow larger and larger over the night and proceeded down river towards the town of Maupin. The Wasco County Sheriff's Deputy stopped by to check on us at 1:00 AM and again at 3:00 AM to make sure that we were okay. All of the volunteer firefighters from neighboring communities came together to stop the fire from reaching Maupin, and their efforts were successful and heroic. From my vantagepoint, the orange glowing ball in the direction of Maupin looked very bad indeed.

 As the sun came up things became slightly less scary because the glow of the fire was far less obvious, and the charred black flat leading into town still had all of the structures (houses, barns, etc. intact). Marty and Mia Sheppard's daughter was asleep in our guest bedroom after having been evacuated to our house at 3:00 AM and their critters were also safely out of harm's way while Marty was down at the homestead fighting off the fire. Thanks to the hard-working volunteers from the Juniper Flat Rural Fire Protection District, the homes on your right as you drop into the town of Maupin were saved, as was the entire town. 

Most people in the town of Maupin thought that the fire was all done, all mopped up, no big deal. Some had smelled a whiff of smoke in the air or had seen a column, and a few curious people had driven up the access road to check out the action across from Wapinitia campground. But I could see the old farmhouse in the bottom of the canyon burning up on Sunday morning and I knew that the strong winds were going to be trouble that day. 

I stopped into the fly shop to download a few photos. A couple of college-aged kids popped in and asked if they could have a campfire during their float down the John Day River. Their timing was not good. With no sleep and a lot of stress built up all night, I may have answered them a bit, shall we say, harshly. 

John called around 10:00 AM telling me to get back to the ranch ASAP. Gwynn and Gabor were instructed to be ready to close the shop to come help us - especially since John is recovering from a hip surgery in December and a recent surgery which prevents him from bending over or picking anything up. We stood on the edge of the rimrock and watched the flames ravage the canyon. Since we have a solid rock face of 700-800 feet in front of the house, we thought that we had decent defense from a fire at the bottom of the canyon. We watched the air show in the backyard as huge jets dumped red retardant ahead of the line of fire and helicopters douched the flames. There was one spotter plane continually circling the whole scene, two type-2 yellow helicopters with snorkels and a capacity of 300 gallons of water per load, two type-3 helicopters with bags that carried 180 gallons of water per load, one or two large airtankers with 2000 to 4000 gallons of red fire retardant chemicals per load, two twin commander tactical air attack planes, and one lead plane to guide the larger planes to the target area.

As the fire got closer, I called the shop to have Gabor and Gwynn come up for support (we close at 4:00 PM on Sundays - so we really only closed a few hours early). Gabor is a great photographer, so he set up his gear on the canyon rim, including a timelapse, and he got to work taking photos. I moved vehicles around, got the horse ready to go into the trailer, and pulled out all of our hoses around the house and on the deck. There was a fire crew of two trucks and about 5-6 people on the rimrock across our grassy fields closer to the Deschutes, but no fire people anywhere near the house (which was the only structure for miles around). I knew they were where they needed to be, directly above the flames climbing the canyon walls and defending the grass field from catching on fire. 

Then the wind changed.

It had been blowing away from us and the fire was steadily marching into the wind, but now it seemed to create its own wind. We were enveloped in smoke in seconds. Then the flames came licking over the top of the rimrock and towering above us. I freaked. 

I jumped on the ATV and raced towards the other crew wildly waving my arms. Our house was between their line of sight and the flames - and things were catching on fire within 200 feet of our house. I called 911. Within minutes, the first fire truck was on the scene with a water cannon putting out the flames and a dozen firetrucks were rolling down the driveway. Friends from Maupin and neighbors from the Flat started rolling in too and I was able to push down the panic just a little bit. 

Everyone paced the edge of the rim looking for flare-ups. We had shovels and water jugs and hoses from the house. Neighbors with tank trucks rolled to the edge to douse the smoldering grass, and the fire moved on past the house and up the canyon. The air was not only filled with smoke, it was filled with the sound of choppers, jets, small planes, twin engine planes, sirens, rumbling trucks, chainsaws, and radio chatter. When the intense danger seemed to be past, I passed out a few cold beers to my helpers. Just then, the tactical plane came beelining towards the house.....and dumped red retardant all over us as we ran for cover.


Our house is still standing, so, BELIEVE ME, I am not complaining, but that red stuff does not come off trailers, trucks, cars, clothing, BBQs, windows, patio furniture, or pavers, without a lot of elbow grease. I guess red is now my new favorite color!

So, we made it through another fire. It is still burning in the canyon below my house, but the hotshot crews are here and the mop up is underway. 

As for the smoke out here - it is non-existent. The river road was closed on Sunday and Monday but it reopened this morning and should not close again unless something crazy happens. The river closure had to happen because the helicopters on Saturday were having to wait for rafting parties to pass through before they could dip their buckets and use the snorkels to refill their tanks.

We are thankful that nobody was injured or killed while defending structures and lands from fire. We are thankful that our house did not burn down. We are thankful that we have good friends and neighbors who were willing to come out to help and support us. 

Many of Gabor's photos were featured on the Portland news channels. He made a fantastic video of the whole thing starting with helicopters dipping into the river on Saturday all the way through the firefight on Sunday. Here is the link to that:  


  • Wow Amy! I’m glad everyone made it through safely and your place is ok.

    Tom Towne
  • I know that you all have constant concern about wildfires in the back of your minds in the summer, but am glad that you are safe and that your house is intact. The Maupin community is amazing and always comes together in times of need. Good luck with the red fire retardant. I’ve seen evidence of it along the river on rocks and vegetation long after a fire is done.

  • glad all is well up there at the Hazel Ranch. Get some rest and we will see you back at the shop soon I am sure. :)


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