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Oregon pinched by early season fires; one blaze blackens 1,200 acres

by Jeff Manning, The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) |

Klamath County (Ore.) Sheriff deputies are evacuating homes in a remote corner of Klamath County as another April wildfire has broken out in Oregon amid dry, warm and windy conditions.

The Pomina fire was burning uncontained near the town of Beatty, located about 40 miles northeast of Klamath Falls. Officials got the first call about the fire at 2:30 p.m. By evening it had scorched about 1,200 acres.

The fire near Beatty comes two days after a rapidly moving brush fire near Oregon City forced homeowners in about a dozen homes to evacuate. The Niebur Fire started Friday afternoon and immediately threatened several structures.

Oregon’s early wildfires are disheartening news after the massive blazes of last September. Strong winds from the east combined with hot, dry conditions on Labor Day weekend led to enormous blazes in the Clackamas, Santiam, McKenzie, Umpqua and other major drainages. Over a million acres burned, nine people died, and about 40,000 people were evacuated.

Much of the towns of Gates and Detroit on the Santiam River, and much of Phoenix and Talent –near Medford – were destroyed.

The Pomina Fire near Beatty broke out less than three weeks after Gov. Kate Brown declared a drought emergency in Klamath County. As of March 8, precipitation and snowfall were 77 percent of a normal water year in the county.

The Pomina blaze began on private property and has moved into the Fremont-Winema National Forest, said Tamara Schmidt, spokeswoman for the national forest. The cause is unclear.

So early in the fire season, it’s proven difficult to find crews and resources to fight the blaze, Schmidt said. For now, U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry crews are fighting the fire.

The stubborn drought comes as regional and state leaders continue to argue over whether to remove four dams on the Klamath River. The proposal to remove the dams to benefit the basin’s threatened salmon has sharpened a decades-old dispute over who has the biggest claim to the river’s life-giving waters.