Fires spread with high winds, warm temps: 'It feels like August, not May'

FALL CREEK, Ore. -- 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.

Local fire officials said they saw proof of an early fire season Saturday, as crews were sent out to handle 12 brush fires around Lane County that were fueled by warm temperatures and high winds.

After getting most of the fires under control on Saturday, Craig Pettinger with the Oregon Department of Forestry said that there are three active fires burning in Lane County on Sunday - in Fall Creek, at Cottage Grove Lake and near the McKenzie Bridge along Hwy 126.

Pettinger added that the firefighters are making good headway on the remaining active fires, but said they weren't prepared for fires this early.

"We're pulling firefighters from other agencies to help," said Pettinger. "It feels like August, not May."

Officials with the Lowell Rural Fire Department said that they have crews working a 20-acre blaze off of Jasper-Lowell Road in Fall Creek.

A tank helicopter was sent out to assist ground crews fighting the fire. Chad Minter with Lane County Fire Defense said he expects that the fire near Fall Creek will stay active for the next few days.

From the Oregon Department of Forestry:

The 20-acre Jasper Lowell Fire in the South Cascade District reported May 4 is burning in grass, brush and timber. The fire is uncontrolled and extended attack is expected. Cause is under investigation.

Another brush fire that quickly spread Saturday afternoon burned the wooded area near the west side of Cottage Grove Lake.

Pettinger said the fire covered around 20 acres near Raisor Road and is threatening about 15 houses in the area. Officials said they believe the homes are safe and haven't called for any evacuations.

A brush fire started Saturday afternoon near the McKenzie Bridge when a tree fell into a power line along Highway 126, McKenzie Fire and Rescue officials said.

The Oregon Department of Transportation reported traffic delays of about 20 minutes at milepost 50, near where the fire is burning.

Fire and Rescue officials said that high winds caused the fire to quickly spread through the dry underbrush. They said they still don't know how many acres were burned by the blaze.

ODOT officials added that drivers headed through the smoky stretches of road should always expect delays as crews and flaggers navigate emergency vehicles in the area.

A viewer told KVAL News that there were about five fire trucks at the brush fire working to douse the flames.

Officials said that the fire is almost under control.

This is a developing story, updates will be posted when they become available.

From the Oregon Department of Forestry:

SUNDAY, MAY 5, 2013

Firefighters scramble to attack early season wildfires

The 100-acre Burgess Road Fire in the Central Oregon District reported May 4 is burning in grass and timber. Twenty-five structures in a rural subdivision were initially threatened. The fire is 75 percent lined with mop-up continuing Sunday. Cause is under investigation.

The 22-acre Gooseneck Road Fire in the West Oregon District reported May 4 is burning in logging slash on steep terrain. Cause is under investigation.

The 20-acre Jasper Lowell Fire in the South Cascade District reported May 4 is burning in grass, brush and timber. The fire is uncontrolled and extended attack is expected. Cause is under investigation.

The 15-acre Milepost 160 Fire in the Douglas Forest Protective Association jurisdiction reported May 4 is burning in logging slash. It is currently in mop-up. Cause is under investigation.

The 20-acre Rasor Road Fire in the South Cascade District reported May 5 is expected to require extended attack. Cause is under investigation.

The 10-acre Tokatee Fire in the South Cascade District reported May 5 is expected to require extended attack. Cause is under investigation.

Wind topples trees, sparks wildfires in Central Oregon

By: Jonathan Cooper, The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) 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 reports 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.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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