17 Sep 2008, 3:32pm
Latest Fire News
by admin

Task force called in to protect Crescent Lake structures

Hwy. 58 shut through the day; evacuees will be out until at least Thursday

By Barney Lerten and Keisha Burns, KTVZ.COM [here]

Last Updated: Sep 17, 2008 01:00 PM

A fast-growing wildfire blackened about 400 acres on the Deschutes National Forest northeast of Crescent Lake Tuesday afternoon, forcing closure of a 12-mile stretch of state Highway 58 and evacuation of about 100 homes and 120 people in the small town of Crescent Lake Junction and nearby areas.

Bulldozer lines were built around the Royce Butte Fire’s perimeter overnight, but erratic winds continued to send spot fires jumping over the lines Wednesday, said Jean Nelson-Dean of the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville.

The fire, estimated at one point late Tuesday at 1,000 acres, was reduced to 600 acres, then 400 acres Wednesday morning due to more accurate mapping. The fire was 10 percent contained by midday Wednesday.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has declared the fire a conflagration, clearing the way for the state fire marshal to mobilize firefighters and gear to help local resources fighting the blaze.

Central Oregon’s “Conflagration Interface Task Force 1″ was activated around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, with firefighters from Bend, La Pine, Black Butte Ranch and other agencies called to the La Pine Fire Station 101 and dispatched to help protect homes and businesses threatened by the fire. Officials said this was a staffing move and did not mean dangers had increased overnight.

A task force from Lane County also was en route, and a task force from Klamath County was on scene, officials said.

Eleven evacuees spent the night at a Red Cross shelter set up at Crescent Community Center, with dozens more checking to make friends and loved ones aware of their whereabouts, said Red Cross disaster coordinator Bobbie Bourne. She said she expected more to do so, once they learn they won’t be able to return home until at least Thursday.

A community meeting to give the latest info and answer questions is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Crescent High School music room, 201 Mountain View Dr., officials said.

Winds from a dry thunderstorm moving through the area around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday blew the across retardant and bulldozer lines, causing it to grow rapidly, said Virginia Gibbons at Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville.

That also sent spot fires across Highway 58, which burned on both sides of the highway about 1/4 mile north of Crescent Lake Junction, in the area of an airstrip, Gibbons said Tuesday evening.

The highway that crosses the Cascades at Willamette Pass is expected to be closed from the Highway 97 junction on the west to an ODOT maintenance station at Milepost 61 to the east through at least Wednesday, Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Peter Murphy said Tuesday night.

The fire burning about three miles east of the pass has burned several miles on each side. “Due to the unpredictable fire behavior and the low-visibility conditions, no vehicles are being allowed past the closure points,” Murphy said.

Motorists traveling between Central Oregon and the Willamette Valley were urged to use Highways 20/22 (Santiam Pass) or Highway 26 over Mount Hood. State Highway 138E near Crater Lake remains closed due to the Rattle Fire, one of two southwest Oregon blazes that have burned about 13,000 acres and also were kicked up by Tuesday’s hot, blustery weather.

The Royce Butte Fire is apparently human-caused, and the cause is under investigation, Gibbons said.

The fire started about a mile east of Crescent Lake Junction, was spotted around 2:10 p.m. and was moving to the southwest, toward the town, Gibbons said.

Residents of the small town along Highway 58 were shaken up after witnessing huge flames and said they were fortunate neither their homes nor businesses were lost.

Nearby shop owner Jon Ditgen said the sight of the fire was unbelievable.

“Forty mile an hour winds came down and just erupted and took off,” he said, “and just ripped all the way down here across the highway and heading over towards Odell Lake.”

“You could feel the wind, you could hear the wind, and the sound of the flames sounded like turbo jets taking off,” Ditgen said. “And it fanned the whole fire and just exploded.”

Resident and tavern owner Maury Anderson said the resort town’s taverns and shops were in serious danger for a time. “I got here (and) the whole thing had blown up,” he said. “It was completely engulfed. We really thought we were going to lose it.”

Anderson said it was stressful watching the fire spread in a matter of minutes, threatening his tavern and home.

“I’ve been up here for 17 years, he said. “I never had anything come this close.”

The fire erupted amid a “Red Flag Warning” for very hot, dry weather conditions that can bring extreme fire behavior, Gibbons said.

Oregon State Police, Forest Service law enforcement and Walker Range Fire Patrol coordinated evacuations that included the town of Crescent Lake Junction, as well as nearby campgrounds and other homes, she said. That included all of the summer homes at Crescent and Odell Lakes, the East Odell Lodge and Crescent Lake lodges, and the Diamond Peak subdivision, east of Crescent Lake Junction.

The American Red Cross Oregon Mountain River Chapter mobilized volunteers and gear to set up a shelter at the Crescent Community Center. (It also set up a standby shelter in Parkdale, near the Gnarl Ridge Fire on the eastern slopes of Mt. Hood. The chapter also has 21 volunteers in hurricane-hit areas of the Southeast.)

Highway 58 was shut shortly before 4 p.m., about 90 minutes after the fire was spotted on the western edge of Royce Mountain in northern Klamath County, according to the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville.

Four air tankers were dispatched to drop retardant on the blaze, along with a helicopter, eight engines, four bulldozers, two water tenders and three 20-person hand crews. The Central Oregon Interagency Incident Management team was being brought to take command of the firefight and get a briefing at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Crescent Ranger Station, Gibbons said.

An incident command post was being set up at the La Pine Rodeo Grounds.

Gibbons said a tough day was expected Wednesday on the fire lines, with similar weather conditions to Tuesday and the “Red Flag Warning” in effect until 11 p.m. Wednesday.

Ronda Bishop, an on-scene fire information officer, said, “What we’re going to focus on are getting dozers lines set up, then work on the west side of Highway 58.”

Earlier, the Crescent Lake Lodge operator was hopeful of staying put, or at least being spared the fire’s destructive power.

“The planes are flying and I’m sitting here, waiting for a phone call,” said Tom Forestelle, who with wife Lori bought Crescent Lake Lodge and Resort five years ago.

Forestelle said authorities were evacuating the 150 or so full-time residents of Crescent Lake Junction. From the resort on the lake’s shore three miles away, he said he couldn’t see flames: “I just see the planes flying over us, and the smoke.”

There were only four or five cabins occupied when the fire threatened, Forestelle said, but more are for the “last busy weekend” of the year. “We’re heading into our quiet season,” he said.



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