Conditions in Sisters are smoky on Sunday morning, August 20, as an inversion holds smoke from the Milli Fire west and southwest of Sisters close to the ground. Smoke is expected to lift as the sun heats the inversion layer, and will likely clear out around 11 a.m. or noon.
Cooler temperatures and higher humidity levels - which continue today - gave firefighters an opportunity on Saturday to make headway in a tough fight against the 7,814-acre fire, which is now the highest-priority fire in the U.S., according to fire officials.
While some frustration was expressed over a perceived lack of timely information and over the fact that the fire was not tackled sooner before it became a conflagration, locals at a community meeting on Saturday evening at Sisters High School expressed overwhelming gratitude toward the team of wildland firefighters, structural firefighters and law enforcement who are protecting the community and trying to get a handle on a very difficult fire.
At the community meeting, fire officials were unable to give a definitive answer as to when evacuated residents in Crossroads, the Edgington Road area and along Forest Road 16 (Three Creek Road) will be able to return to their homes. The decision to evacuate is based on risk to lives and property, and a decision to return is based on assessment of the variety of scenarios that could develop on the fire and the strength of containment lines. Fire officials say they don't take evacuation lightly and discuss the situation every day, but they will not sacrifice safety to allow a return.
Sisters Ranger District information officer Jinny Reed advises evacuees to "look for information about returning home over the next two to three days."
Task forces with the Oregon State Fire Marshal continued working on structural protection. The focus was prepping the areas around homes and outbuildings to form a defensible space in the event of fire encroachment. Two additional task forces, for a total of seven, were expected to be in place overnight.
Firefighters on Saturday concentrated their efforts on the southeast side of the fire, where gusty winds and flying embers created spot fires and caused evacuations on Friday. Crews completed successful burn out operations and hand crews tied a fire line across Whychus Creek into a dozer line created in the late evening/early morning hours.
Crews worked all day in areas with steep terrain and heavy fuels. Some late afternoon tree torching and the resulting smoke cloud hampered air operations for a time. Firefighters have worked hard to keep the fire from crossing east over Forest Road 16 (Three Creek Road) directly south of Sisters.
Air tankers made numerous retardant drops on Saturday to help ground crews establish containment lines. Crews on Saturday were able to bring water resources to the line in some inaccessible areas.
About 100 firefighters will join the more than 400 personnel already in place. Firefighters hope to take advantage of cooler temperatures and higher humidity on Sunday, which should help operations; however, gusty winds will still be a challenge.