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La Pine fire: Preview of tough season ahead?

By Joe Burns
Published On: May 05 2013 10:11:07 PM CDT
Updated On: May 05 2013 10:43:26 PM CDT

The latest on the wildfire that broke out in La Pine on Saturday, hear what fire experts say it means for the rest of the fire season.

LA PINE, Ore. -

The Burgess Road Fire forced evacuations for a few hours on Saturday afternoon for about two-dozen residents of the Crescent Creek subdivision near La Pine.

The fire came very close to homes and Rosland Elementary School but forest thinning and clean-up --  preparing for wildfires -- helped save structures. 

And while firefighters have a little more work to do on this fire, experts say it's the start of what could be an early, and long, wildfire season.

The fire got so big that residents in southern Deschutes County, like Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone, could see the smoke from 10 miles out. 

"We started going into fire protocol right away," DeBone said Sunday. "We got animals at the house, and we are thinking, 'Oh, boy -- this is not good.'"

As soon as La Pine City Councilor Stu Martinez saw the smoke, he also got concerned.

"I was coming from Bend when I saw the column going up," Martinez said. "And as I got closer, I thought, 'This is not good.'"

The winds gusting to 40 mph didn't help the nearly 170-acre fire, which was declared contained as of 8 p.m. Sunday. 

"I was concerned for everybody, because you hear about it," Martinez said. "It's going on right now in Southern California -- homes are being lost."

"I've been on those fires with the Red Cross as a forest officer with the Oregon Department of Forestry, I've seen what they can do, and you don't want to have that happen in your community," he said.

And luckily, it didn't turn out that way. 

Federal grants in 2005 and 2009 gave the county money to reduce the amount of fuels, like dry brush and dead trees, in the area where the fire hit, when winds brought down live power lines. 

"And man, do you appreciate that, that work that was done in preparation for just managing the land close to urban areas and population," DeBone said. 

"I looked around at the property that the county owned and owes," said Deschutes County Forrester Joe Stutler. "And strategically, if we treat this and look at where fires are going to come, this is a great place for an anchor point."

It's the 45th fire season for Stutler, who says this is the driest spring he's ever seen.

"If you base it on how dry things are right now, we could have a significantly tough fire season," Stutler said, adding that the fuels appear to be as dry as they normally would in late summer.

"This is the time to get prepared, to get your area treated and house with defensible space," Martinez said. "So lucky, just lucky."

"The people are back in," Stutler said. "We have sufficient resources here, water, all that kind of stuff and they will mop it up and get ready for the next one."

Officials say firefighters will continue mopping up the hot spots for the next couple days.

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