Highway 26 set to reopen, partially

Evacuation warnings still up due to wildfires around Central Oregon

Published Jul 21, 2014 at 08:11PM

Officials expect to partially reopen U.S. Highway 26 west of Mitchell on Tuesday morning — a week after wildfire forced its closure.

The stretch of highway between Prineville and Mitchell is scheduled to open 8 a.m. to one lane of traffic, with Oregon Department of Transportation pilot cars guiding traffic. Motorists should expect 45-minute delays, and the highway could close again due to safety concerns.

Fire on both sides of the highway prompted ODOT to close about 5 miles of the highway around Ochoco Summit last Monday night. Concerns about burned trees potentially falling onto the roadway and other dangers have kept it closed.

U.S. 26 passes through the heart of one of three fires in the Waterman Complex Fire. Started by lighting July 11, the Waterman Complex has burned 11,989 acres, or close to 19 square miles. As of tonight, the fire is 60 percent contained.

Evacuation notices for residents in about two dozen homes along Highway 26, and other residents near West Branch, have been reduced to Level 2, which means they should be ready to leave.

Near Prineville, the Ochoco Complex Fire has burned 6,301 acres, with no containment estimate.

Officials have scheduled a public meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Bowman Museum, 246 N. Main St. in Prineville, to discuss both fires, according to a news release.

Evacuation warnings have also been issued for people living in 54 homes on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation due to the Logging Unit Fires. Also started by lighting, and first spotted Wednesday, the Logging Unit Fires have burned 7,328 acres, or nearly 12 square miles, as of tonight, according to the team managing the fire. The fire, burning about 25 miles northwest of Warm Springs, is 5 percent contained.

The Bridge 99 Complex Fire, burning 18 miles northwest of Sisters, also continues to prompt evacuation warnings, according to the team managing the fire. The warnings are for people living in the Three Rivers subdivision. The fire has burned 5,848 acres, or more than 9 square miles. The fire, which has closed some of the campgrounds along the Metolius River near Camp Sherman, is 25 percent contained.

Elsewhere, the Jack Knife Fire near Grass Valley had burned 13,263 acres as of this morning and is 100 percent contained.

— Dylan J. Darling