SISTERS, OR -- Work on Highway 242 is progressing, following this summer's Milli Fire that burned more than 24,000 acres west of Sisters. However, officials say there is little chance the scenic highway will reopen to vehicles before spring.
Peter Murphy, with the Oregon Department of Transportation says the Forest Service removed hazardous trees that were in danger of falling onto the road, but now comes the hard work of assessing the actual roadway. "We've gotten to the point where we kind of have a handle on what's going on with Highway 242 - the Old McKenzie Pass Highway - after the Milli fire up there. It's not a pretty sight, I can tell you that right now. The fire was really hot, it burned right alongside the road for a dozen miles or so, and it's pretty evident that the fire that ripped through there charred the landscape. It's going to be awhile before it returns to the natural beauty it had before." He adds, "What we're looking at is a burned landscape, where the vegetation is gone from the side of the road. So we're concerned a little bit that runoff is going to bring the hillside down onto the highway itself, bringing dirt and stuff down onto the highway surface. So we've got to get up there now before the weather changes, and do what we can to stabilize the road itself."
Murphy says they're racing the clock to get work done before winter. "We have workers up on top and they'll be working their way down, because when it gets cold, that's what gets hit first. And, we're just going to make the progress that we can, making sure that the road is in the best shape it can be as winter sets in; and then come back in the spring and take a better look at it."
Highway 242 typically closes in late fall because ODOT does not maintain the narrow roadway through the winter. Murphy hopes the area will be open to winter sports enthusiasts, so ODOT is working to make sure it will be safe for them, whether the road is opened to vehicles before winter hits or not.
Photo: The Milli Fire burns near the Dee Wright Observatory on Old McKenzie Pass, August 22, 2017.