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Lines hold on La Pine wildfire despite winds' return

By NewsChannel 21 Team
Published On: May 04 2013 02:44:31 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 19 2014 07:33:23 PM CDT

NewsChannel 21's John Hendricks updates the successful battle to contain a wildfire Saturday near La Pine, allowing evacuees to return home.

La PINE, Ore. -

Firefighters worked Sunday to hold and improve the lines on the 168-acre Burgess Road Fire near La Pine and officials said it didn’t grow, with full containment expected at 8 p.m.

Even with containment, despite winds gusting again to about 30 mph, crews will continue mopping up and looking for any remaining hot spots for the next several days, the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center reported.

However, in a late Sunday afternoon update, the dispatch center warned that “high temperatures and winds still could present a problem for this fire and for any new starts.”

Meanwhile, firefighters also responded Sunday to two abandoned campfires in Central Oregon, officials said. Both had burned outside the fire rings and had the potential to grow into much larger blazes.

Fire officials said they want to remind people that although it’s still early May, conditions are dry across Central Oregon, and they urged everyone to use caution on public lands – for example, completely extinguishing campfires every time someone is not present to watch over them.

Earlier Sunday, the dispatch center said the fire that prompted evacuation of about 40 homes in the Crescent Creek subdivision was burning in lodgepole pine, and continues to smolder in areas with heavy needles

Firefighters with the Oregon Department of Forestry, Walker Range Fire Protection Association and the Forest Service were continuing work near subdivisions Sunday, while La Pine Rural Fire District crews focus on structure protection. Staffing Sunday included five fire engines, three 20-member hand crews, a water tender, a bulldozer and several other personnel.

Meanwhile, a fire that broke out Saturday about two miles northeast of Crane Prairie Reservoir, ignited when winds blew trees across power lines, was mapped Sunday at seven acres and was 100 percent contained. Crews were on hand to continue mopping up hot spots and improving containment lines.

COIDC officials said the fire smoldering in pine needle debris emphasizes the need for residents to clean up pine needles around their home – on the roof, under decks and in gutters – to create defensible space, should a fire approach. Needles are light, flashy fuels that can easily ignited.

For information on 10 simple steps that can be taken to make a home defensible against a wildfire, and for information about disposing of yard debris for free during FireFree Recycling Days, visit www.projectwildfire.org.

The La Pine Fire District lifted the evacuation around 8 p.m Saturday., though Deschutes County sheriff's Lt. Chad Davis warned residents with respiratory issues that heavy smoke would linger in the area through the night -- and indeed, travelers on Highway 97 were seeing plenty of wildfire smoke Saturday night.

Citizens were told smoke and fire will continue within the fire boundaries and were asked to stay out of the fire zone, "sincere there are still hot spots and hazards."

Other firefighters from around the region headed home, and a Red Cross shelter set up at the La Pine Event Center was being closed, after about 35 evacuees checked in. Davis said the agency could be contacted by those who need to do so, at 1-888-680-1455.

Strong winds raking southern Deschutes County toppled trees and power lines Saturday, and live wires sparked some fast-moving wildfires, one that grew to several acres and prompted evacuation of about 50 homes in the Crescent Creek subdivision north of incorporated La Pine.

Monica Stevens was asked to leave her home as the flames raced closer.

"You just have to think of all the things you can never replace," she said. "In 2-3 minutes, you just have to think of everything that's important to you and leave."

But by 6:30 p.m., things were better, with fire bosses saying the blaze was 80 percent contained, and Burgess Road was being reopened; Huntington Road reopened by about 8 p.m.

The Burgess Road Fire, as it was named, ignited around 1:50 p.m. when downed power lines ignited a brushfire near Burgess Road and Pine Drive, Davis said.

Oregon Department of Forestry, Forest Service and BLM crews helped La Pine firefighters battle the fire as winds pushed it toward the west. Jefferson County, Sisters, Cloverdale, Black Butte Ranch and Redmond firefighters also were dispatched as part of a structural task force, to protect homes threatened by the fast-moving fire.

Earlier, the fire moved to the east and south of Rosland Elementary School, but crews kept it from damaging the school grounds -- in fact, officials said no structures were damaged by the fast-moving, shifting flames.

But it was close -- as the school had its sprinklers on Saturday evening, and it was clear the blaze had burned right up to the fence line of the school, which later became the fire's incident command post.

One reason it didn't turn out even worse was thinning and related work done to reduce wildfire fuels in the area. The fire broke out "in an area that had been treated for wildfire, so it's probably the reason why it didn't make it into heavier timber," Davis said.

Earlier in the afternoon, a recorded evacuation notice was sent by EPN (Emergency Phone Network to about 50 homes in the Crescent Creek subdivision on the east side of Huntington Road, the lieutenant said.

Also, a pre-evacuation alert notice was sent to residents within a mile to the south of Burgess Road and a mile to the west of Huntington Road, to be ready to leave quickly, Davis said.

Residents in the pre-evacuation area were asked to have their belongings and pets ready to evacuate in the event that a larger area is evacuated.

Sheriff's deputies also were urging citizens and onlookers to stay out of the area so as not to impede fire-related traffic.

At first, deputies said the fire was being pushed toward the south by strong winds from the north, moving very hot through the trees.

While Hwy. 97 remained open, ODOT flaggers were on hand due to smoke in the area and in case the fire moves closer and a closure becomes necessary, Davis said.

Lisa Clark of COIDC said about two-dozen residents were evacuated from the Crescent Creek subdivision, where the flames reached one-quarter to one-half mile away.

The Red Cross set up an evacuation shelter at the La Pine Event Center, at 16405 First Street, by the La Pine Library. A shelter for pets was established at the La Pine Pet and Bath at 51590 Russell Road in La Pine.

The Crescent Creek neighborhood is located on the east side of Huntington Road, south of Burgess Road and west of Highway 97.

At the command post, a unified command was set up between the city of La Pine and Deschutes County, Clark said.

A local resident, Mike Shields, manning a road grader was carving fire breaks to stop the flames from advancing closer to homes. That apparently stopped the flames from advancing farther south.

But the wind kept blowing and shifting, causing spot fires, sending flames jumping across lines and causing more problems.

Before 5 p.m., the fire jumped the lines and moved west of Huntington Road, prompting new concerns. But winds began to lessen late in the day, giving fire crews a break after a rough afternoon.

Also, Redmond and BLM firefighters contained a small (1/10th of an acre) fire along railroad tracks about four miles south of Redmond. The cause of that fire was under investigation.

It was a frightening early-May start to Central Oregon's wildfire season, which usually doesn't begin in earnest until July or August. Experts have warned across the West of an early, rough fire season due to dry conditions, as evidenced by fires burning in Southern California.

With warm temperatures, dry conditions and high winds expected to linger, fire officials urged residents to avoid debris burns and use caution while out on public lands, thoroughly dousing campfires and following area fire restrictions.

Earlier Saturday afternoon, La Pine Fire issued a general alarm due to numerous fires, the worst moving to within 50 yards of the school shortly before 2 p.m.

Dozens if not hundreds of of trees and power lines were blown down, mostly in southern Deschutes County, causing transformers to explode and sparking fires. The winds and damage prompted sheriff’s deputies to urge that people stay indoors and off the roads while repair crews do their work.

The winds kicked up around 11:15 a.m., said Lt. Chad Davis, and while most of the problems were occurring south of State Rec Road, another tree toppled in Deschutes River Woods south of Bend.

A National Weather Service spotter a mile north of Three Rivers said northeast winds caused a 50-foot-tall tree, 12 to 14 inches in diameter, to fall onto a home, damaging the roof and the attached garage.

There also were reports of downed trees in Sunriver (blocking Cottonwood Lane), Black Butte Ranch and Redmond and a tree crashing into a roof in the Camp Sherman area.

No injuries had been reported.

Midstate Electric Cooperative and county public works repair crews were advised and responded to the area, Davis said. Cable and telephone lines also were downed as the winds ripped through the region.

Ryan Miller told NewsChannel 21 on our Facebook page there were "down trees everywhere" in La Pine and on roads to the east and west, but only saw one on a house so far and it wasn't big enough to cause major damage.

Several of the downed power lines were still live and throwing sparks that started fires, Davis warned. He said motorists who become trapped in their cars should stay in them and call 911 for help.

Redmond Airport was reporting a 39 mph gust around noon, along with a 37 mph gust at Madras Airport (38 mph an hour later), 36 mph at Sunriver and 28 mph at Bend Airport.

Wind-sparked power outages also began to occur in the Bend area; Cuppa Yo frozen yogurt said their Newport Avenue location was temporarily closed due to an outage.

There also were reports of downed trees and small fires in Redmond, where residents said lights were flickering or dimming in "brownouts."

Numerous weekend events were underway on an otherwise-nice Saturday, from garage sales to baseball games, but the winds made it challenging to tie or weigh things down and stay safe.

At Crooked River Ranch, for example, Jefferson County dispatchers said a large trampoline with metal legs was rolling down Horny Hollow Trail, blocking the road.

The NWS in Pendleton said the north to northwest winds of 15-25 mph with gusts to about 35 mph would continue across Deschutes County through Saturday evening, then subside overnight.

"Although these winds are not overly strong, trees unaccustomed to northerly winds of this strength are at risk of falling over or snapping," forecasters warned.

Please share your information and a few (safely taken!) photos of damage with us at stories@ktvz.com.

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