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Campers, hikers recall harrowing fire escape

Published On: Jul 29 2013 08:31:53 PM CDT

NewsChannel 21's Kandra Kent spoke with hikers and campers about a scary evacuation near La Pine.

LA PINE, Ore. -

A group of thru-hikers tackling a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail were putting out a small brushfire Sunday at Bobby Lake on Sunday afternoon when they looked up to see a much scarier sight.

"We're fighting this little fire, and we look up -- and there's this huge wildfire in front of us," hiker Julie Zapoli recalled Monday.

The Browns Creek Fire near the Wickiup Reservoir was about 10 miles from their camp -- but it looked much closer.

With no information or cell service, another hiker, Tracey Caraluzzi, said they weren't about to take any chances.

"We really had to make a split-second decision," Caraluzzi said. "It appeared, to us, the fire was moving in our direction."

Without a car, the three women headed out to the highway,  hitch-hiking to a safe spot where a family member had left a car for them.

The fast-moving wildfire burned more than 100 acres, forcing campers to move their vacations elsewhere.

Sheryl Simpson has been coming to the Sheep Bridge campground from California for about 30 years. She said about a half-hour after she spotted the first flames,  officials told them to evacuate.

"It just started coming at us -- the flames were huge," Simpson said.  "I went back and started getting the motor home ready to head out of there. We had to leave the boat in the water."

Other campsites in the area filled up quickly.

"We just went up the road and found a pullout and spent the night," Simpson said.

Elk Lake Resort owner Mitch Cole told NewsChannel 21 his campground was already nearly full when a couple dozen evacuees began to pour in Sunday evening, looking for a new place to stay.

"The manager from next door came over here and asked if we had room, and that's when we started moving people around," Cole said..

For many, it wasn't exactly a relaxing vacation, but definitely memorable.

"It's not going to stop us from coming back," Simpson said. "It's such a beautiful area, we'll keep coming back."

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