Miller Homestead Fire Burns onto Refuge
Fire suppression activities from the 160,853 acre Miller Homestead Fire, which moved onto Malheur National Wildlife Refuge the evening of July 12, continues in meadows east of Highway 205 and south of Krumbo Lane. As the fire spread across Highway 205 and into meadows in the Blitzen Valley dry peat soils were ignited and continue to burn below the surface. Approximately 150 acres of meadows in the Lincoln and Bailey Fields are undergoing active suppression activities. Subsurface smoldering hot spots in the peat are presenting a unique challenge for fire fighters.
In an effort to minimize further spread of the peat fire a three mile long, four foot deep trench has been excavated around the perimeter of the affected area. Water diverted from the Blitzen River into the West Canal will be moved into the trench and onto the smoldering peat soils in an attempt to stop further spread of the sub-surface peat fire. The Refuge is maintaining necessary flows in the Blitzen River and the East Canal to support wildlife and fish resources.
Vegetation within the affected meadows is also being removed as part of suppression activities to reduce fuel loads and to create better visibility for fire fighters to see hot spots. Using local resources vegetation is being removed from the fields at a savings to the government. Refuge biologists conducted extensive wildlife surveys of the area before vegetation removal treatments began and did not locate any nests or fledgling birds which could be impacted by suppression activities.
In addition to suppression activities from the Miller Homestead Fire three previously planned and funded hazardous fuels reduction projects in meadows east of the Blitzen River and adjacent to the town of Frenchglen have begun early to minimize future threat of wildfires. The hazardous fuels reduction projects were originally scheduled to begin in August, but diversion of water from the Blitzen River into West Canal to support the peat fire suppression activities has created drier field conditions and with the arrival of fire season 4-6 weeks earlier than normal has increased the potential for wildfire activity on the Refuge.
Refuge biologists conducted extensive wildlife surveys of both project areas to insure that wildlife would not be impacted by the projects. Special emphasis was placed on locating greater Sandhill crane colts and bobolink nests. No nests or fledgling birds were located in either project area. Bird nests were located adjacent to the project areas in cattail and bulrush stands and will not be affected by the hazardous fuels removal projects. Earlier than normal spring nesting conditions on the Refuge has resulted in earlier fledging of most birds in the Blitzen Valley and has minimized potential wildlife conflicts with early initiation of the projects.