Joseph Canyon Fire

Baker River Hotshots discuss strategies for battling Oregon’s Joseph Canyon Fire before heading out to the line Sunday, June 6, 2021.

ENTERPRISE — The early beginning of Oregon’s wildfire season was brief, but spectacular. Just one day after the Interagency Team 7 overhead team assumed command of the Joseph Canyon and Dry Creek fires, crews and air support are being released.

The release of the Type 1 helicopters and most of the crews was announced at Team 7’s Tuesday, June 8, planning meeting at Wallowa County Fairgrounds’ Cloverleaf Hall, Enterprise, indicating the fire was winding down.

The Joseph Canyon fire was 20% contained as of June 8. The latest mapping of the fire revealed it burned much more than previously measured — 7,575 acres primarily on private and Nez Perce Tribe land.

Two hotshot crews worked along the eastern flank of the fire while the western edge of the fire moved toward monitoring status. The eastern and northwestern flanks of the fire are contained. The southern edge of the fire continues to be a challenge due to the rugged terrain.

The Dry Creek Fire, a 1,500-acre fire burning on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, was 50% contained as of June 8.

Lightning in the early morning of June 4 sparked the two fires in the far northeastern corner of Wallowa County. Due to the rugged, remote, steep terrain and dry fuels creating severe fire behavior, helicopters and air tankers battled the fire, with the support of smokejumpers, helicopter rappel firefighters and elite ground crews called hotshots flown into the fire.

High winds hampered air attacks on June 5 and spread the fires far from their ignition points. But by June 6, temperatures decreased and the humidity came up, aiding efforts to cool down hot spots and along the perimeter of the fires.

Weather wreaked havoc and aided to the early demise of the fires. Between 0.25 and 0.4 inches of rain was predicted for the fire locations over June 9 and June 10. The good news was the rain would come in showers and not heavy downpours, reducing the threat of slides and washouts.

Humidity recovery was forecasted to be near 48% at ridge tops with 5-10 mph winds coming from the north and northwest. Afternoon and evening gusts could be up to 25 mph and a slight chance of lightning.

The rain and fog were listed as potential factors that could hamper mopping up the fire with helicopter water drops, but fire activity was predicted to diminish even further.

Team 7 Section Chief John Larson said remaining crews and air support would work on securing the fire line and mopping up where possible in the coming days.

Crucial to the success of putting out the fire and firefighter safety in canyon country were “human repeaters,” fire crew members who could receive radio communication and deliver messages to those in areas where direct communications were hampered by steep cliffs and deep canyons.

Larson said now that the fire was in mop-up mode, “human repeaters” and lookouts would not be necessary as communications would be conducted in areas easier to reach by radio.

Spike camps where crews were camped on the fire line were scheduled for clean up with equipment and trash flown out via helicopter.

The Nez Perce Tribe has temporarily closed the Precious Lands Wildlife Management Area within the Joseph Canyon Fire footprint.