Oakridge holds it breath as the Cedar Creek Fire grows

Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 7:29 PM PDT
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OAKRIDGE, Ore. (KPTV) – The Cedar Creek Fire continues to grow in eastern Lane County, and community members in the city of Oakridge are on high alert with east winds in the forecast.

The city of about 3,300 people is about 15 miles west of the fire lines, but easterly winds are projected to blow through the town Friday and Saturday. This is raising concerns in the community the fire will change direction and march west. Fire officials at the incident command post said they’ve been proactive in preparing for an east wind event. One official said firefighters created fire lines in preparation for gusty winds and they’re planning to place night crews on the western fire lines at night this weekend.

To help bolster defenses, Lane County Fire Defense Chief, Chad Minter, recalled 12 fire trucks and two tasks forces back to the county. He also said rural fire districts in the area are also adding extra staffing through the weekend. Chief Minter said their main focus this weekend is the Cedar Creek Fire and keeping Oakridge safe.

Steve Saxon has lived and worked in Oakridge for 36 years. He said the town is used to wildfires breaking out in the Willamette National Forest surrounding his community, but the last few years have been more concerning.

“It’s more common and it’s more intense,” Saxon said. “Global warming is no secret. We’ve got a lot of fuels in the forest and it’s been hot and dry.”

Saxon said because of the constant threat of fires each summer, he and his neighbors are always in a level one evacuation order mindset.

“It’s a constant worry living in this town,” Saxon said. “You just have to be prepared. You have to have a go bag just in case. You get a level three order, you got to be gone.”

Even though the Cedar Creek Fire is 15 miles away, Saxon said the easterly winds forecasted for the weekend have him on high alert.

“We’re used to westerly winds so we think well the fire starts east of town we’re going to be safe,” Saxon said. “If those wind directions change for that fire near Waldo. We’re in the line of fire.”

Saxon said the 2020 Labor Day fires are still fresh in his and his neighbor’s memories. He sees parallels to his valley and the McKenzie River Valley where the Holiday Farm Fire torched it’s way west down highway 126 towards the Eugene-Springfield metro area.

“All of those people are displaced, they’re living in campers,” Saxon said. “They’re living in hotels. They’re living with relatives. That’s a big disruption to your life to come back to your house that’s gone.”

With the Cedar Creek Fire still active not too far away, Saxon said he will be paying close attention to the Lane County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page this weekend. Because one spark or one ember could be devastating.

“That whole side behind me is covered in Douglas Fir and Cedar Trees,” Saxon said. “They’re big trees and they’ve been there a long time and they’ll just go up. Any risk of fire, they can just go through the crowns of those trees and spread as wildfire does.”