Evacuations near Cultus Lake still in effect

Muskrat Fire had burned 60 acres by Friday night

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin / @DylanJDarling

Published Aug 9, 2014 at 12:02AM

Deschutes County sheriff’s deputies plan to consider easing evacuations and warnings this morning at Cultus Lake, two days after they were put in place because of the Muskrat Fire.

After meeting with firefighters Friday morning and afternoon, deputies decided to keep the evacuation levels where they have been since Thursday afternoon, said Sheriff’s Lt. Scott Shelton.

“We are going to wait until the morning (to consider changing the levels),” he said Friday night.

The Deschutes National Forest on Friday also issued a closure for public lands around the fire, primarily north and west of Cultus Lake, a popular recreation spot.

The fire had burned 60 acres in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area and was not contained, although there were preliminary lines flanking the fire, Kassidy Kern, spokeswoman with the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville, said Friday evening.

Firefighters mainly fought the fire from the air Friday, due to difficult terrain.

“(The fire is) in the wilderness … so it is steep, it is rugged,” Kern said.

Six helicopters pulled water from nearby lakes Friday and dropped it on the fire, Kern said. Two Oregon Air National Guard Chinooks took water from Cultus Lake and the other four helicopters grabbed water from Teddy Lake. On the ground, two 20-person hand crews, 11 smokejumpers and four firefighters who rappelled from a helicopter to the fire attacked the blaze. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Shifts in wind today could bring smoke from the Muskrat Fire and other blazes burning around the Northwest to Bend and other Central Oregon towns. In response, Deschutes County Health Services on Friday issued an advisory.

“Wildfire smoke from fires in and around Central Oregon … may increase the risk of illness, especially for older adults, young children and people with asthma, respiratory, or heart conditions,” Tom Kuhn, community health manager with the agency, wrote in a Friday press release. “We encourage people to monitor air quality conditions while planning weekend activities.”

The Muskrat Fire was first spotted around 12:45 p.m. Thursday and prompted an evacuation order for West Cultus Lake Campground as well as the north shore of the lake and backcountry north of the lake. The order covers Corral Swamp and Winopee, Muskrat and Teddy lakes. The evacuation order resulted in 75 to 100 people leaving, Shelton said.

The fire also caused the sheriff’s office to issue an evacuation warning for Cultus Lake Resort and the Cultus Lake Campground. The resort was open Friday and Jennee Elliff, a co-owner of it, said firefighters seemed to have a handle on the fire burning about 5 miles away. The fire sent up a smoke column Thursday as it grew in heavy timber.

“It’s just a little puff of smoke now across the lake,” Elliff said Friday morning.

The fire didn’t cause guests to leave the resort Friday, although it may have put a dent in the dinner crowd at the restaurant there, Dan Campbell, another co-owner, said Friday evening. He said water sports are the main draw at the lake and people were out on the water “all day” Friday.

Kern said sheriff’s marine deputies were also on the water Friday, keeping boaters clear of the helicopters taking water from Cultus Lake.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com