Banks Fire District sends crew, equipment to 2,000-acre Graham Fire

UPDATE: JUNE 24, 3:00 P.M. — The Portland-based Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, an all-risk emergency information management system, announced at about 1:30 p.m. today that the eastern Oregon Graham Fire, which started last Thursday near Lake Billy Chinook, is now 60 percent contained to 2,143 acres.

Resources used to fight the wildfire include seven hand crews, six helicopters, 33 fire engines, one bulldozer, eight water tenders and 395 personnel, including two Banks Fire District 13 firefighters — Engineer Rob Davis and Probationary Lieutenant Cooper Garza. 

Lake Billy Chinook Fire Chief Don Colfels said the intensity of the fire, today’s warmer temperatures and strong winds blowing east put dozens of homes in danger, but air attack resources are available to make water drops if needed.

“Thanks to the work of our local crews, the support of other central Oregon agencies and state support from (the Oregon Department of Forestry) and (the Oregon State Fire Marshall), we were able to bring this fire to the more manageable state it is today,” Colfels said. “Additionally, because this community has worked hard to create defensible spaces, many homes have been completely burned around and left intact.”

A public meeting is planned to take place this evening, Sunday, June 24, at 6:00 p.m. at the Chinook Village Store, located at 8241 SW Jordan Road in Culver.

Local officials there will tell residents current information about the Graham Fire, as well as what they can do to protect their homes and lands in the future.

Original June 22 Story

Banks Fire District 13 was activated last Thursday night, June 21, as part of Washington County Task Force 1 in a statewide response to the Graham Fire near Lake Billy Chinook in eastern Oregon.

The epicenter of the fire, burning mostly on private land protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry, is located west of Cove Palisades State Park, which is about a 50-minute, 26-mile drive from the city of Madras. It is not yet clear how the fire started.

Mitch Ward, public information officer for the Banks Fire District, said the department sent to the Graham Fire a tender truck, which holds 3,000 gallons of water, as well as a two-man crew consisting of Engineer Rob Davis and Probationary Lieutenant Cooper Garza.

Tony Carter, a captain with Forest Grove Fire and Rescue, said his department sent along with the Washington County Task Force to the Graham Fire a brush engine, which is a one-ton pickup truck with a tank that holds 200-400 gallons of water. No Forest Grove firefighters were sent to eastern Oregon.

Davis and Garza could be deployed for as long as two weeks before they are relieved, Ward said, although at this point there is no way of knowing how long the men may remain in eastern Oregon.

A June 22, 8:00 a.m. morning briefing from the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center said the Graham Fire, near Geneva, covered about 750 acres; however, by 1:00 p.m. on Friday, June 22, OregonLive.com and Portland television news station KTVZ reported that the Graham Fire spread to more than 2,000 acres, reaching the unincorporated community of Culver.

The information posted on OregonLive.com and KTVZ could not be independently verified by the Banks Post, but a video posted on Facebook from KATU News time-stamped at 2:30 p.m. June 22 shows the fire burning near Culver.

Rescue crews issued a Level 3 — meaning it’s time to leave immediately — evacuation notice to Culver residents and others in the path of the rapidly-spreading wildfire. Several structures reportedly were in danger, although the types of buildings being threatened were not immediately clear, according to several published online reports.

Earlier in the day on June 22, Oregon Governor Kate Brown proclaimed the Graham Fire a “conflagration,” which means it’s reached emergency status. This marks the first conflagration proclamation from Gov. Brown since the 2018 wildfire season began — wildfire and forestry observers say 2018 may be an exceptionally dangerous year. 

Telephone calls from the Banks Post, as of 4:00 p.m. Friday, seeking updated information from Northwest Interagency Coordination Center Public Information Officer Carol Connolly lead to a voicemail box that was full.

 

 

Daniel Pearson

Daniel Pearson holds a bachelors in journalism and an MBA in marketing. He’s a10-time, Oregon SPJ award-winning journalist, a two-time winner of an ADDY (advertising) for copywriting, and a one-time award winner for fiction for the NW Coastal Writer’s Series. Email: daniel@bankspost.com Twitter: @rosecitywriting