Winds topple trees, spark fires in Central Oregon
By JONATHAN J. COOPER
Of the Associated Press
PORTLAND — Winds gusting to 40 mph wreaked havoc on parts of Central Oregon Saturday, toppling trees that blocked roads and downing power lines that sparked at least two small wildfires and forced the evacuation of dozens of homes.
The fires were small, estimated at 10 acres and 100 acres respectively — a small fraction of a square mile. But strong winds and warm temperatures made them tough to fight.
About 40 homes were evacuated in the afternoon when flames got too close to the Crescent Creek subdivision near La Pine, according to Sgt. Mike Biondi of the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office.
He said all the evacuees were given the OK to return home about 8 p.m.
Biondi said more than 20 people showed up at a Red Cross shelter, which was shutting down as the threat eased.
The all clear came after crews were able to make progress containing the fires as winds died down.
Lisa Clark of the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center says a larger fire was about 80 percent contained.
Power-company workers were heading to the smaller fire to clear downed lines so fire crews could safely finish a containment line.
Biondi also said that two key county roads closed because of the fires had been reopened.
Earlier, Lt. Chad Davis of the Deschutes Sheriff's Office said one blaze burned close to an elementary school in La Pine, but school property was not damaged. The fires hadn't burned any structures, he said.
No injuries were reported, but the authorities advised people to stay indoors until the winds subsided and crews could clean up roadways. Davis said the sheriff's office received several reports of transformers exploding and trees catching fire.
The gusty winds and unusually warm weather brought an early start to fire season in the Pacific Northwest.
Firefighters contained a third small fire about four miles south of Redmond. Crews were still investigating the cause. Authorities in Washington said a small, 10-acre blaze was creating a large amount of smoke in a remote, mountainous area between Portland and Seattle.
Fire experts warned last week that a dry winter and expected warming trend mean the potential for significant fire activity will be above normal on the West Coast, in the Southwest and portions of Idaho and Montana.
KTVZ-TV in Bend reported that garage sales, baseball games and other weekend events were under way on an otherwise-nice Saturday, but the winds made it challenging to hold things in place.