Fire threatens Oregon subdivision

July 29, 2002 at 12:44 PM
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BEND, Ore., July 29 (UPI) -- As many as 5,000 residents of an Oregon resort area were out of their homes Monday as a fast-moving wildfire continued to threaten their entire subdivision.

Stiff winds and low humidity combined late Sunday to fan the Cache Mountain Fire in the Deschutes National Forest and send it racing toward the subdivision of Black Butte Ranch where residents had to hurriedly pack and head for safety through the smoky streets.

"We thought we had things under control and then Mother Nature comes along and has a different idea," Black Butte Police Chief Gil Zacaro told The Oregonian.

The Cache Mountain Fire grew to nearly 4,000 acres by Monday morning after it jumped containment lines and began bearing down on the residential area, which is made up of a large number of vacation homes.

An evacuation center was established at a high school in nearby Bend.

As Black Butte Ranch's residents hustled out of the area around sundown, more firefighters were being sent in to provide protection for around 1,300 homes and other structures. The fire destroyed 2-4 homes Sunday.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber invoked the state Conflagration Act late Sunday, which allows firefighters from Oregon cities to be sent into rural fire areas, primarily to patrol threatened neighborhoods and provide structure protection. Kitzhaber was scheduled to visit the area Monday.

The Cache Mountain blaze became a top priority in Oregon as the Sheldon Ridge Fire near The Dalles was brought to 60-percent containment. The 12,117-acre fire was still, however, considered a potential threat to 200 homes and was burning in an area known for strong, erratic winds whistling through the Columbia River Gorge.

Southern Oregon remained under a red flag fire warning Monday as dry air and winds around 15 mph combined into explosive conditions. The Haines Index -- a measure of the humidity and air movement in a particular area -- remained at a 6, which is considered an extreme risk for rapidly spreading fire.

"A high Haines Index of 6 with existing fires will provide good ventilation today," the National Weather Service warned Monday. "In southwest Oregon, existing fires will again be stoked by early afternoon as a trigger temperature of around 88 is achieved."

Stiff winds were also predicted in other parts of the Pacific Northwest as well as Montana and Northern California.

Fire crews continued to battle a trio of large fires in California, including the 67,500-acre McNalley Fire that was no longer considered an imminent threat to the Giant Sequoia National Monument, but remained only 25 percent contained and was burning in rugged terrain.

The Stanza Fire in the Klamath National Forest was 20 percent contained at 1,650 acres, but it claimed the lives of three U.S. Forest Service firefighters who were killed Sunday when their fire engine rolled off a narrow fire road and tumbled some 800 feet into a ravine. Two other firefighters were injured.

Investigators from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management were dispatched to Northern California to find out what caused the accident.

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