Households west of Sisters have been told to be ready to leave on a moment’s notice due to the Milli Fire, which grew overnight Wednesday from about 260 acres to 4,565 acres in the Three Sisters Wilderness.
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office ordered the potential evacuation notice Thursday morning for areas south of McKenzie Highway and west of the Pole Creek Ditch. That area includes the Crossroads subdivision and homes off of Edgington and Remuda roads.
In addition, the sheriff’s office is warning all areas between state Highway 242 and U.S. Highway 20 from the Cold Springs Campground to the city of Sisters, which includes the Tollgate subdivision, to be ready to evacuate. The possible evacuation orders do not affect the city of Sisters or Black Butte Ranch.
The fire prompted the Oregon Department of Transportation to close Highway 242 west of Sisters near Black Crater.
The Red Cross opened a shelter Thursday at Sisters Middle School for residents affected by the fire. For those with pets or livestock, the Pet Evacuation Team — which works under the direction of Red Cross and Deschutes County emergency services — set up at the Sisters Rodeo grounds, where the volunteer group will safely house animals.
Coordinator Jamie Transki said no animals had arrived as of Thursday afternoon, but she welcomes residents to bring their dogs, horses, cattle and other various pets and livestock.
The Milli Fire, burning 6 miles west of Sisters and about 1½ miles southwest of Black Crater Lake since Friday, is not contained. It is affecting about 1,600 residents and threatening 650 homes.
Winds on Wednesday pushed the fire north and northeast into Oregon Department of Forestry lands. Part of the fire is also burning dead timber left by the 2006 Black Crater Fire.
“That growth was unexpected yesterday,” Deschutes National Forest spokeswoman Jean Nelson-Dean said Thursday. “There are extremely dry fuels, and we get those kinds of winds up there. It’s not what was anticipated.”
Smoke from the fire has spread across Central Oregon, with ash falling from the sky as far south as Sunriver.
Nick Yonker, Oregon Department of Forestry meteorology manager, said the smoke could linger through the weekend and potentially affect the view of Monday’s total solar eclipse in Sisters, Bend and Sunriver. Madras and Prineville, drawing thousands of people to enjoy the eclipse’s path of totality, will likely stay clear of the smoke, Yonker said.
“Smoke generally doesn’t clear out immediately, but further north toward Madras will be much better,” Yonker said. “I would count on smoke in Bend on eclipse day, but not necessarily in Madras.”
More than 200 firefighters are working to establish containment lines to protect private property and improve access to Forest Service roads. Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act, allowing the state fire marshal to mobilize more resources to assist local crews battling the fire.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency allowed the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs, determining the fire threatens destruction that would constitute a “major disaster.”
A public meeting to update residents on the fire was scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Sisters High School. Community members were expected to hear from Forest Service and fire management staff about the status of the fire and strategies to manage it.
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