'We need to get water to the fire': Helicopters to fly pumps, hoses into wilderness

The Whitewater Fire was estimated at 80 acres July 26 with 15 percent containment. (USDA Forest Service photo)

DETROIT, Ore. - A lightning strike a month ago smoldered in obscurity before finding the right combination of high winds and hot, dry conditions to fan the flames into a wildfire in an Oregon wilderness area, the Forest Service said Wednesday.

A commercial airliner spotted smoke from the Whitewater Fire in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness on Sunday.

Now estimated at 80 acres, the fire is 15 percent contained.

Trail and road closures in and around the wilderness remain in place.

And fire bosses are shifting gears from the "light touch" of the initial attack, which focused on water drops from helicopters and hand crews digging fire line.

“Hand lines and water drops haven’t stopped the daily surge of fire activity we’ve been seeing each afternoon,” said Dave Johnson, incident commander of the Whitewater Fire. "We need to get water to the fire."

The plan now: Use helicopters to fly 5 pumps and thousands of feet of hose into the fire area to put more water on the fire.

“This hose lay will enable us to cool down hot spots that ignite beyond our control line," Johnson explalined. "Crews will wet down the vegetation next to our lines which will strengthen our lines so they can better withstand the afternoon spike of increased fire activity."

This isn't a complete departure from a "light touch" approach to putting out the fire, he said.

“This means cutting fewer trees and minimize the impact of the fire suppression efforts,” Johnson said.

A “light touch” suppression effort is intended to "maintain wilderness values and minimize the long-term impacts of firefighting activities," according to the USDA Forest Service.

About 120 people are working the fire.

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