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Burgess Road Fire serves as defensible space reminder

By Joe Burns
Published On: May 06 2013 08:40:41 PM CDT
Updated On: May 06 2013 08:42:18 PM CDT

What's the difference between untreated fuels and treated fuels? The difference between a catastrophe and a success story. Hear why treating fuels was so important in the weekend fires in La Pine.

LA PINE, Ore. -

High winds toppled trees into power lines causing 16 fires this weekend in La Pine.

The largest: the 168 acre Burgess Road Fire, which closed roads and caused evacuations. But pre-treatment work on the land helped save many homes.

And a La Pine Fire District drill just two weeks earlier had laid out a scenario that was almost to the letter what transpired Saturday

The fire was a quarter-mile away from the homes in the Crescent Creek neighborhood, and while homeowners have taken precautions for fires like this weekend, they wanted to thank the firefighters for putting it out so quickly.

"Back in 2005, the county owned property that looked similar to this with very thick bitterbrush," said Deschutes County Forrester Ed Keith.

Bitterbrush is all throughout Deschutes County. It's high in natural oils, and very volatile.

Keith says it produces flames three to four times higher than the shrubs.

"It would be very hard to suppress a fire with winds like we had this weekend with fuels in this condition," Keith said Monday, pointing to an area filled with high-volume fuels.

Back in 2005, the county knew the potential for fire in the 516-acre area that is the center of the La Pine community.

So the county hired contractors to thin trees and mow the underbrush.  

"With it being mowed down like the grass, we had really short flame lengths where firefighters were able to attack the fire directly, even with the strong winds and gusts up to 40 mph," Keith said.

The wind was a concern Saturday for fire crews and residents of the Crescent Creek neighborhood during the fire.

"Forty to 50 mph winds can take a fire places it normally wouldn't go and normally wouldn't have that issue," said Robert Julianus, who lives in one of the 50 homes where residents were urged to evacuate.

"What was great about it is, one, I have a lot of faith in the La Pine Fire Department," said Julianus. "And two, our property management company has focused on fire prevention. A lot of land is being cleared, especially last year. So a lot of the undergrowth and brush and so forth is pretty much gone. They made us very aware of us trimming trees and that kind of thing."

The fire threw embers into the neighborhood, but because homeowners were already prepared, homes were spared.  

"All of the houses are clear of pine needles, so there are no pine needles on the roof that can be taken by embers," Keith said. "And all the area around their homes is nice and clean, so it's not going to light on fire, should an ember fall."

It's a lesson early in the fire season that officials hope others will follow.

"it's a reminder to trim your trees and make sure you keep anything that can catch fire away from your home," Julianus said. "It's just a constant now that I never thought about too much. Now, it's definitely on all of our minds."

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