Families prepare as wildfires burn through the Willamette National Forest

LANE COUNTY, Ore. (KGW) — Along the McKenzie River in Lane County, Joe Zook turns on his front yard sprinkler. It’s one of several he has misting his property as a wildfire not far from his home burns through parts of the Willamette National Forest.

“We’ve been watering the perimeter of our land for several days,” Zook said.

He lives just outside the evacuation zone of the Lookout Fire, one of two wildfires burning in Lane County. The other is the Bedrock Fire further south.

“It did fire up yesterday pretty good,” Zook said of the flames from the Lookout Fire. “I could hear it sitting outside my house.”

On Monday afternoon, crews from the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office arrived at the Lookout Fire to try and slow the flames. On Tuesday, fire crews from across the state were positioned throughout the communities of McKenzie Bridge and Rainbow on standby with extra water for the crews fighting the flames. Five strike crews from California consisting of 25 engines and 100 personnel also have been deployed to help fight both of the fires in Lane County.

The Lookout Fire started on August 5 and was caused by lightning, the state fire marshal’s office said. Extreme temperatures and gusty winds on Sunday fanned the flames and prompted Level 3 (Go Now) evacuations for people nearby. It has burned more than 2,700 acres so far.

Just a few miles west, scars from a previous wildfire remain. Miles of charred trees are a stark reminder of the Holiday Farm fire that devastated the town of Blue River just three years ago. Sharon Sheets lost everything.

“You’re just numb you know…and that’s kind of devastating when you come back up here and you see something that you’ve worked so hard on, my husband had built the first house,” Sheets said.

Next door to her home, construction crews are still rebuilding the neighborhood from the Holiday Farm fire, amid the smoke from the Lookout Fire. The smoke from the Lookout Fire has left many areas in Lane County with air quality at ‘hazardous’ level, the highest level that’s tracked.

“When it first broke out you think ‘oh no here it is, it’s going to happen again’ because you just don’t know what a fire’s going to,” Sheets said. “Other than the smoke, we feel fairly safe right now, it’s just that it still lingers in your mind.”

A major difference in this year’s wildfire is that it’s moving slower due to the lack of wind.

A community meeting is happening Thursday evening at McKenzie High School for those affected by the Lookout Fire.

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