Smoke from fires near Oakridge pours into Central Oregon

Dispatchers take flurry of phone calls reporting possible fire

Winds this evening are blowing smoke from wildfires near Oakridge over the Cascades into Central Oregon.

Smoke from a series of fires called the Deception Complex filled the western sky in Bend near sundown, turning the sunset blood red. In response to the smoke, the Central Oregon Intergency Dispatch Center received a flurry of calls, said a dispatcher at the center in Prineville. She said there wasn’t a wildfire burning close to Bend.

As temperatures drop tonight the smoke probably will settle in and blanket Central Oregon, with people likely being able to smell it, she said. The dispatch center sent out a tweet advising people to close their windows to keep the smoke out.

Started by lightning Aug. 12, the Deception Complex is burning about two miles west of Oakridge, which is about 50 miles east of Eugene. The fire became very active today, according to Judith McHugh, spokeswoman for the Willamette National Forest, prompting evacuation warnings in Westfir.

As of this morning the half-dozen fires in the complex had burned a total of 851 acres and were 53 percent contained, according to fire officials. McHugh said they wouldn’t know new numbers until Thursday morning.

A pair of fires in the complex near Westfir blew up today, spreading past their containment lines, she said. The fires caused level III evacuation orders, in which residents are told to leave now, for 85 homes between 6 and 7 p.m. About an hour later the evacuation order was lowered to a level II warning, in which residents are told to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Workers at the Middle Fork Ranger District Office in Westfir also left early for the day after a spot fire started close by, McHugh said. Firefighters are bracing for similar fire behavior Thursday, which could lead to more smoke in Central Oregon.

The fires in the Deception Complex are burning in old-growth timber, McHugh said.

“Old-growth fires put off a lot of smoke,” she said.

— Dylan J. Darling