After a 5-day battle, the 330-acre Stagecoach Fire northeast of Gilchrist in northern Klamath County was declared fully contained Friday evening, though local firefighters will continue to mop up and patrol until the blaze is fully out.
R.D. Buell was never so glad to be wrong as he was when he got back into the wildfire-ravaged area northeast of Gilchrist, where his agency’s firefighters had thought they lost a vacation cabin to the raging flames of the Stagecoach Fire northeast of Gilchrist – only to learn that it still was standing, untouched, thanks to the defensible space cleared around it.
“It is a miracle,” the Walker Range Forest Protection Association manager said Thursday.
And the homeowner, David Reid, agrees. Reid walked outside his door Monday afternoon to a firestorm.
"Just like a freight train -- and that is exactly what it sounded like. It was over half a mile away, and then within 20 minutes it was here."
The Stagecoach Fire closing in on his 30 acres of land, and all he could do was watch.
"I thought everything was going to be gone," Reid said.
His stepson's cabin was directly in the fire's path.
"R.D. told me, he said, 'Dave, I'm sorry, I couldn't save your son's cabin.'"
Terrible news, quickly overshadowed by good.
"It was a shock. I thought, 'Oh my God!' you know?" Reid said.
“There isn’t even a black mark on it,” Buell said. “The fire blew up all around it.”
Word had come Tuesday morning that the fire that raced through 330 acres the day before, forcing evacuation of about 120 homes, had destroyed a small, unoccupied vacation cabin, along with an outbuilding in the Antelope Meadows subdivision.
Buell had said then, “The main front of the fire hit the subdivision at that point. What we have to do is make a decision which way to go. We went back to a new house and protected it.”
But it had been too hot for fire officials to let anyone get close. Later that day, Buell said he got in there – and was happily amazed at what he saw, letting the relieved owners know Tuesday night.
And Buell knows why it was still standing, too – a lesson driven home over and over for Central Oregon residents after the calamitous fires of past years – the lessons of defensible space.
“The (owner) did the clean-up, did the spacing, had the tees cut the right space away,” Buell said.
“This had a running crown fire right over top of it, the ground fire followed it in – and within 30 feet of the house, there was nothing that burned.”
"It's intense hard work. This has been years in the making -- keeping it up, going further and clearing more," Reid said.
A 30-year-old La Pine man was arrested Monday night on a first-degree arson charge, accused of leaving a fire unattended on BLM land that sparked the blaze earlier in the day.
Klamath County sheriff's deputies arrested Kelly Parker, one of two people living illegally on BLM land who left a fire unattended that allegedly spread and caused the fast-moving blaze.
Sheriff's Cpl. Bryan Bryson told NewsChannel 21 Parker "had a campfire that he used for cooking and warming on in his camp." And when he left for work Monday, Bryson said, "that fire wasn't extinguished" -- and quickly spread.
A Klamath County Jail officer said Parker was arrested near Howard Lane in La Pine Monday night and arrived at the Klamath Falls jail around 11:30 p.m. He was being held on $100,000 bail on the Measure 11 charge, but that was lowered by a judge to $25,000 at his initial court appearance, she said.
District Attorney Rob Patridge told The Associated Press Parker pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned Tuesday afternoon on the charges of first-degree arson and reckless burning. Another court date was not yet set, she said.
BLM and sheriff's deputies reminded people that living on public lands is illegal. Also, Clark said, as conditions get hotter and drier, everyone should use extreme caution while recreating, make sure fires are completely out when not being watched, and follow all fire restrictions.
The fast-growing forest fire broke out in the woods of northern Klamath County south of La Pine Monday afternoon and put up a tall plume.
The fire was reported by the Odell Butte lookout around 3:30 p.m. Monday about eight miles northeast of Gilchrist and five miles south of the junction of Highways 97 and 31. It roared across hundreds of acres of lodgepole pine in just three hours.
The fire broke out a half-mile east of Highway 97 near the Old Stagecoach Road, about five miles south of the Highway 97-31 junction, and moved generally toward the southeast, Clark said..
The Walker Range agency provided this list of agencies involved in Monday's firefighting battle: USFS Crescent Ranger District, Walker Range FPA, Crescent Fire, La Pine Fire, Bureau of Land Management/Prineville District, Oregon Outback Rural Fire Districts, Klamath and Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon State Police, Midstate Electric Cooperative, ODOT, Oregon Department of Forestry, Klamath and Deschutes Counties Task Forces, Red Cross and radio station KITC-FM.
ODOT spokesman Peter Murphy said the highway was never shut for a long period Monday, but there were intermittent closures due to air operations over the fire.
April Makinson looked on Monday as the smoke billowed into the afternoon sky.
"It is a little frightening, because you don't know what's happening with those people back there, fire is a scary thing," Makinson said.
On the other side of Highway 97, Sayne Thomas was watching the fire as well with her husband, hoping the winds wouldn't switch sending flames their way.
"My husband is even talking about setting up the fifth wheel and just maybe having it ready to take off," Thomas said.
About 120 homes were evacuated in the Antelope Meadows and Jackpine Village areas, located within a boundary of Highway 97 to the west, the railroad tracks at Beale Road to the east, Howard Road to the north and Beale Siding Road to the south, Clark said.
But the threat eased late Monday night, and the evacuations and road closures were lifted by 10:30 p.m.
In the early stages, the fire was about a half-mile from the nearest houses, in the Antelope Meadows area, Clark said. Klamath County sheriff's deputies and Search and Rescue crews were in the subdivision to evacuate residents.
The Red Cross set up evacuation shelter at La Pine's John Johnson Building, 16405 First Street.
Five air tankers were dropping retardant on the blaze as one Type 1 (the largest) helicopter dropped water to assist ground crews.
Monday evening, Deschutes County's structural protection Task Force 1, including Bend, La Pine and Sunriver fire crews, was called out to help protect homes in the area. But they headed home a few hours later, as the threat to the neighborhoods eased.