Snowmobile club puts out forest fire

OAKRIDGE, Ore. - A pair of snowmobile clubs put out a forest fire in a remote area south of Summit Lake Saturday.

The group of eight were maintaining trails and picking up trash near the Timpanogas Campground area as thunderstorms started to brew.

Travis Omlin, club member of both the Walker Rim and Willamette Side-By-Side snowmobile clubs, said the group moved to an old fire lookout ridge as they were leaving the forest.

Omlin said that's when they witnessed a huge lightning strike.

"CJ Price, our club president, was waving us up to come quickly to come look at this, and he pointed out on the horizon smoke," Omlin said. "Then all of sudden you just see the flames."

Omlin said the club members took immediate action.

"Once we saw the actual forest catch on fire, it was time to go," he said.

They could see the top of the tree aflame like a birthday candle, with burning material falling to the forest floor.

"We first called the Forest Service dispatch," Omlin said, "then some of us started driving towards the fire."

As they approached the fire, Omlin said he could smell the smoke and knew it was going to be big.

"Once we walked in there and saw the flames, the whole ground was on fire, trunks were on fire," he said.

Omlin said the smoke was intense.

"The ground was very hot, so we were using our rakes and shovels to move the ground apart from the flames," he said.

Omlin said the flames were shooting as high as three feet off the ground in a 1,300 square foot area, or the size of a small house he estimated.

Two days prior, the Forest Service created tighter restrictions for those looking to use the recreational area.

Omlin said because of that, they were armed with fire extinguishers, rakes, shovels, chainsaws and other light-duty equipment.

He said some of the club members had been previously trained to fight fires.

"It took us quite a while to put out the fire," Omlin said. He says it took more than 45 minutes.

He said he could tell where the lightning strike landed.

"The bark was actually ripped down off the tree and exited the tree at the base," Omlin said. "It caught the existing logs on fire."

The USDA Forest Service encourages people to report forest fires from a safe distance.

Omlin said within an hour of reporting the forest fire, a Forest Service employee made it to the site.

He said the recreation area near Timpanogas Campground is very popular. "That whole area could have been devastated," he said.