Medco B fire under investigation but not a start to fire season, according to ODF

BUTTE FALLS, Ore.– The Medco B fire will soon be put to rest as crews are nearing full containment after battling flames and smoke over the weekend. While it was originally thought to be 450 acres, crew overestimated the size which is now been brought down to 345 acres.

But as the fire comes to an end, the investigation into how this fire could have started is cranking up.

Located in the hills between Prospect and Butte Falls, Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Supervisor Bill Smith stood above the ashen landscape at the very edge of where the fire ended, surveying the scene. He described, looking down the hill, how the winds helped to push the flames up the hill quickly Saturday afternoon.

“Unless you have a wind component that’s gonna override topography, topography is going to win out,” he said. “You can tell we’re on a real steep hill here and so judging by that we can tell that this fire has traveled up the hill.”

As a Type II fire investigator himself, Smith first started back in 2005 and has studied plenty of fires since. He says when investigators start on a fire, time is of the essence. Usually, it means getting to the fire as soon as it begins.

“The very first thing is – it really comes during the response to the fire,” Smith said.

Getting to the fire to find it’s origin – the are where the fire may have started – can be crucial in fully understanding what happened. If they don’t, there’s risk information could be lost as crews work to get the fire under control.

“Then start reading indicators from there that will either confirm our thought that it did start there or that we’re looking in the wrong place,” he said.

Investigators still don’t have a cause for the fire and are still working to figure out whether it was accidental, negligent or an arson. What is known is that the fire started on what was a previously harvested area for lumber – a very susceptible spot. Even with all of the rain this season, the recent hot weather quickly dried up the open land and made it easier for the wind to push the fire.

“Just because we’re on this hill, we’ve had the hot temperatures, the wind just kind of rips right through here,” said Natalie Weber, spokesperson for ODF. “It was really the perfect storm for this area to just take off.”

However, while this is the first big fire of the year, ODF says at this time it’s not an indicator that the beginning of fire season is here. These types of fires can happen at any point, according to ODF.

In the past 50 years, ODF data has shown that eleven of those years marked fire season beginning in May and only twice did it start in April. The last fire season to being in either month was in 2006.

The agency says fuels are looking good otherwise and because of the moisture in the tree line, it helped somewhat in stopping the fire from spreading further.

For fire agencies, that will hopefully hold off fire season for another month.

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