Wildfire closes Crater Lake’s West Rim Drive
The Spruce Lake fire sends up smoke Thursday afternoon in the northeast corner of Crater Lake National Park. [Inciweb photo]
By Mark Freeman
Posted at 2:26 PM Updated at 4:49 PM
Hot winds continue to push two lightning-caused wildfires in and near Crater Lake National Park to the east and upward in elevation, chewing up chunks of forestland and causing road and trail closures within the park.
The Spruce Lake fire grew overnight to 3,600 acres, all within the park and moving toward the caldera, while the Blanket Creek fire, which continued to chug toward the park’s southwest boundary, had grown this morning to 3,000 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Fast-moving flames and spot fires caused the National Park Service Friday to close West Rim Drive from Munson Valley Road to the North Junction and all trails in between.
The closures were similar to those during last near’s Bybee fire that burned north of the current blaze. Crews are taking advantage of last year’s burn scar as a natural barrier toward containment, fire spokesman Cheyne Rossbach said.
The fire was listed today at 5 percent contained, with nearly 200 firefighters on hand.
Two helicopters using water buckets began dropping water in the face of moving flames to give the two hotshot and 12 other ground crews an opportunity to attack the fire directly after days of chasing spot fires and working on flanking the fire.
Flames remained more than a mile from the caldera today, and as they burn eastward, they will move into steeper, sparser terrain and even some wetlands that are “not super-conducive” to burning, Rossbach said.
Aided by three water tenders, three engines and four tree-falling units, fire crews are eschewing retardant drops to protect sensitive plants and soils but nevertheless are aggressively attacking the flames that were discovered July 29, Rossbach said.
“The park is planning full suppression,” Rossbach said. “They want to see it out.”
In the meantime, the West Rim Drive closure is identical to last year’s closure for the Bybee fire, allowing visitors entering the park from Highway 62 access to Crater Lake Lodge and the concessionaire.
However, trail closures within the park include Discovery Point, Lightning Springs, Boundary Springs and Bert Creek trails, as well as the Rim Trail from Discovery Point to the North Junction.
All other park amenities, including boat and trolley tours, remain open, and no visitors are at risk, park spokeswoman Marsha McCabe said.
“It’s certainly smoky, depending upon the time of day and conditions,” McCabe said. “Sometimes you can see the lake better than others.”
Meanwhile, firefighters at the nearby Blanket Creek fire within the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest abandoned an initial containment line breached by spot fires the past two days, moving back to fortify Gingko Road as the secondary fire line, Rossbach said.
That move exposed about 2,400 acres to oncoming flames, Rossbach said.
“That’s the safest line they can tie into,” Rossbach said.
The fire is expected to continue moving east, especially during hot, windy afternoon hours that have dogged firefighters since this fire was discovered July 26, Rossbach said.
The fire was listed Friday at 3,000 acres and 9 percent contained. Nearly 750 firefighters are assigned to the blaze, including 14 engines, 16 water tenders and seven helicopters.
Air-quality monitoring sites have been created around the Blanket Creek fire, showing moderate health risks to date, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality. Shady Cove was listed as “unsafe for sensitive groups” late Friday.