Adam Duvernay Register-Guard
Published September 1, 2020
As firefighters Tuesday worked to improve the firelines surrounding the Sweet Creek Milepost 2 Fire burning near Mapleton since Sunday, Lane County sheriff's deputies had arrested a Mapleton man and charged him with intentionally setting the fires.
The wildfire, kept to about 500 acres between Monday night and Tuesday afternoon, first was reported Sunday as multiple smaller fire. It is being worked as a single wildfire.
The 44-year-old man was charged with first-degree arson. His case is being sent for review to the county district attorney's office, according to a sheriff's office news alert.
Tuesday's firefighting efforts were focused on keeping the blaze behind established fire lines. Oregon Department of Forestry Spokesman Marcus Kauffman said the wildfire is encircled by firelines, but fire personnel continued widening and dampening those lines.
The fire Tuesday morning was an estimated 513 acres. Kauffman said it had not changed significantly by afternoon. The fire was reported to be about 500 acres Monday.
More than 400 people and 10 aircraft were on hand Tuesday to fight the fire.
"The plan for the day is hold and secure," Kauffman said Tuesday. "The fire stayed within the footprint yesterday and stayed within the footprint during the night."
The Mapleton area hillsides Tuesday morning were cloaked in smoke, thin and gray except where darker plumes rose into the sky above intense timberland flames.
On Sunday, Ann Miller watched from her porch as flames rose up from the treeline across the Siuslaw River. By Tuesday afternoon, the same vantage offered only smoke.
"Today is the worst the smoke has been. So I shut the windows and have been staying in the house," Miller said. "The helicopters are really awesome to see, but really loud."
With the river between her home and the burning timber, Miller said she feels safe.
"If you see flames come over, you just get in the car and leave," Miller said.
More than 100 homes are threatened by the Sweet Creek Milepost 2 Fire, though none have yet been lost. A Level 3 evacuation notification is in place for the Hadsville Road area; a Level 2 notification is in place for the Sweet Creek Road area; and a Level 1 notification, the least severe evacuation order, is in place for the Bernhardt Creek Road and Duncan Island Road. The Red Cross is offering help for affected homeowners.
Rich Long, a new homeowner in Mapleton, said the past few days have been stressful.
"I'm not even sure if the insurance has kicked in yet," Long said.
Long's home is situated right above the Mapleton Middle School where ODF is staging its firefighting operations. Though he's heard firefighters have the flames as well in hand as they can, he said the images of smoke and fire in past days have been frightening.
"It looked like the end of the world in our little town of Mapleton," Long said.
Though firefighters were hopeful their lines would hold, Kauffman said the coming days have ODF officials concerned because temperatures are expected to climb.
"It's going to be hot and dry for several days at a time with stronger, gusty winds. And that also comes at the end of a long, hot summer," he said. "The fine fuels — the brush and the leaves, as well as the larger logs — that is all cured out and available to burn."
One of ODF's three incident management teams on Monday evening assumed control of the firefighting efforts, which he said reflects the complexity of putting down the blaze.
"We have lots of homes threatened. We have multiple land ownerships. We're close to a major highway," Kauffman said. "There's a lot of complexities to deal with."
Kauffman asked drivers to avoid the Sweet Creek Road area and for boaters to avoid nearby areas of the Siuslaw River where helicopters are collecting water to fight the fire.
No injuries have been reported and no structures have been destroyed.
Contact Adam Duvernay at email@example.com or on Twitter @DuvernayOR.