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Out of Harm's Way

Out of Harm's Way

This is not actually a fishing report - it is a fire report. The fishing report is called The Dog Days of Summer- I posted it on the same day as this report.

Well, it has been quite a week here in Maupin. The town was under an evacuation notice for half of the week due to a nasty fire that broke out on Juniper Flat. If you come to Maupin by driving on 26 over Mt. Hood, then you are familiar with the long straightaway of Highway 216 which cuts across Juniper Flat through the amber waves of grain. It is just about time for the ranchers to cut the wheat, and this is a bumper crop thanks to all the moisture that we had this spring. It was also a bumper crop of grass that grew and became crispy when the temps soared to 110 last week and stayed there. All it takes is a truck with a hot exhaust pipe to park in that grass and poof - we have FIRE. Combine that fire with two days of raging winds and we have trouble. 

This all happened up on Juniper Flat on Tuesday. We heard that a fire had started and immediately our home up on the flat was in the zone with level 3 evacuations - which is a GO NOW evacuation level. We closed the shop early and ran home to assess the situation. I wrote my name and phone number on the hoof of each of my horses - in case things happened too fast to evacuate them and I had to turn them loose. Then I went to the house to get legal documents, my passport, social security card, bamboo fly rods, guns, etc. I had a friend with me and she took my car with all that stuff in it down to Maupin. I then fired up my 1987 Toyota Landcruiser and hooked it up to the horse trailer. 

We waited a bit and watched the fire grow. It soon became apparent that the fire had jumped the highway and was headed in our general direction. We were checking in with Brian SIlvey and he was in the thick of it with fire on three sides of his place. Fortunately, he was able to keep it at bay, but the wind was relentless and shifting direction constantly. I rode the ATV to the edge of our place and could see juniper trees about a mile away exploding into flames. That was enough for me. I raced back to the house to see what John wanted to do. 

My husband works tirelessly all spring on creating defensable space around our house. We had the water tank ready on the tractor, but the power had been cut so we had no way of fighting the fire. Brian called a few minutes later and said that his house was safe but the fire was headed our direction fast. I wrestled with the panicked horses, got them both in the trailer, and Lupine and I drove out the long driveway towards the blue skies. In my rearview mirror a mountain of smoke glowing with flame grew and seemed to engulf everything. I got to the intersection of 216 and 197 where there is a huge parking area. The police and fire crews had the highway closed down and we saw in the distance salvation in the way of 737 tanker planes full of retardant. 

I sat and stared in the direction of our house where the smoke was dark and growing larger by the minute. My horses were pawing and shaking the horse trailer - not happy with their current situation but safe and sound for the time being. As I sat there waiting for news from John, two of our neighbors drove their tractors with disc harrows down our driveway. They added an additional 150 foot wide buffer of dirt in the field between our house and the approaching fire. I was relieved to know that someone else knew that John was there at the house ready to fight to save it. 

The big planes were led by a smaller spotter plane to the leading edge of the fire, now burning in thick fields of wheat. The 737 released huge rivers of red fire retardant at exactly the right moment and we could see the smoke getting a little bit thinner with each pass of the plane. There were two tankers on the scene, each making 2-3 dumps before heading south to Redmond to refill their tanks. They worked well past sunset and had a huge impact on the fire. 

By the time it was just getting dark the sheriff allowed me to return to the ranch. Brian Silvey was there with John and it looked like we got lucky - but the next day's forecast was for 35 mile per hour winds. Brian and I were supposed to guide on Wednesday and Thursday, but we had to cancel Wednesday in order to keep an eye on the fire. Things got really bad on the flat on Wednesday with flames jumping huge fire breaks and tearing through the grasslands and wheat fields. There were a lot of firefighters on the scene - they had come in from all over the state to help. The wind was too strong for helicopter air support but the big planes were still on the job. Sadly, a lot of farmers lost a lot of wheat and some even lost their homes, despite the best efforts of the firefighters. 

We guided on the Deschutes on Thursday and the flames had been mostly doused by the end of that day. Exhausted after guiding on very little sleep (it's kinda hard to sleep when your house is sitting in a level three evacuation zone), I drove around the flat with my driftboat in tow before heading home in order to see the damage of the past three days. Firefighters in their green pants and yellow shirts were working tirelessly with shovels and buckets in dusty blackened fields. The roots of the juniper trees continued to burn underground, threatening to flare up on the next windy day.  I drove past a lone chimney standing where a farmhouse had once stood for 100 years. I came across a group of wildland firefighters on the road and a wave of emotion/grief/relief came over me as I shook their hands. I choked back tears as I  thanked these heros for saving so many houses, including mine. 

On Friday morning the news played in Portland telling the story of the fire. We saw our neighbors on the screen sharing their stories of escape. We got a lot of phone calls asking if the road was open and how bad the smoke was and if the river was on fire. We assured the callers that the fire was out - though it was just this morning that we officially moved to a level one evacuation status. 

Though not a fishing report, a lot of people have been asking about the fire, so there you have it.  

5 comments

  • Too close.

    Phil Frazier
  • Glad you and the family are safe! My colleague has a lot of family in that area and apparently lost multiple structures to that same fire. Scary stuff.

    Peter
  • Amy, so glad your house made it and many thanks to all the firefighters who worked so tirelessly.

    Mark Atherton
  • New to steelhead angling on the Deschutes this year. I fish my home rivers of the Clackamas and Sandy for steelhead, but have never fished the Deschutes. My plan is to walk from the mouth up, and hopefully find some of those small, in between runs, that boaters who have two anglers in the boat pass by. I hope to find that kind of water in the lower section of river.

    Amy, when is a good time to start fishing for steelhead in the Maupin area, upriver above the falls?

    Peter
  • Glad that you guys and your property are okay. Range fires are a scary thing! Thanks for the report.

    Mark Freshley

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