Central Oregon wildfires were started by humans


by Associated Press and KGW Staff


Posted on June 10, 2014 at 6:57 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 10 at 7:05 PM

BEND, Ore.  -- The set of wildfires that blackened the skies of Central Oregon and burned through nearly 10 square miles outside Bend were "human caused," according to an investigators for the Deschutes County Sheriff's office.

"Investigators located the origins of both fires, collected evidence, and have determined that the fires were human caused," said Capt. Shane Nelson of the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office Monday evening. Investigators say the fire is suspicious, but they're not ready to call it arson.

Nelson said a joint investigation was conducted by Oregon State Police, the U.S. Forest Service, Deschutes County Sheriff's Office and others. The investigators were still seeking information and urged people to call Crime Stoppers at 1-877-876-TIPS.

The group Cascade Timberlands was offering $2,000 for information that leads to a successful conviction.

Evacuation conditions ease

The threat to homes on the outskirts of Bend was easing Monday evening as crews continued to work to contain the wildfire.

About 50 homes northwest of Bend remain under an evacuation notice Monday, threatened by two fires merged after erupting Saturday near Tumalo Reservoir. Monday night estimates put the blaze at 6,800 acres of heavy brush and timber that's burned.

The fire was 25 percent contained as of Monday evening. So far operations have cost about $2.2 million and involved 11 helicopters, 48 fire engines, 11 bulldozers and 800 people, according to the Central Oregon Fire Information Center.

The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office said no injuries or serious property damage had been reported.

The fire was burning primarily on private timberlands and sections of the Deschutes National Forest.

Gov. John Kitzhaber Monday enacted the Conflagration Act, which allows the Oregon State Police and the Oregon Fire Marshal to coordinate with fire fighting agencies statewide to bring crews and equipment to the Bend fire.

Photos: Wildfires threaten Bend homes

At one point, evacuation orders went out for 250 homes, but officials said Sunday night residents of 200 of those homes in the Saddleback subdivision were being allowed to return and just 50 remained under evacuation along Skyliners Road outside Bend.

Fire officials said about 2,000 homes were in an area that is considered threatened.

Only those with proof of residency were allowed into the evacuation areas, according to the Deschutes County sheriff's office. Residents were warned to watch for fire fighting equipment.

A livestock shelter had been opened at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds in Redmond. Sheriff's deputies had set up roadblocks at Skyliners Road at Phil's Trailhead  Falls Road, Tumalo Reservoir Road at Springs Road, Bull Springs Road west of Johnson Road and on Forest Service road 4606 at 460 Spur Road.

More: Time lapse videos of Bend wildfires

Sheriff's spokesman Justin de Ruyter stressed that those given the OK to return as well as some others living in areas west of Bend have been advised they still might have to evacuate at a moment's notice.

Some evacuees told the Bend Bulletin they'd thinned brush and scooped up pine needles to protect from a wildfire.

"The whole development is in the woods," said Mike Johnson who lives in the evacuated Saddleback neighborhood, which has plots of 2½ acres and bigger.

The blazes were burning in a mix of Deschutes National Forest and private lands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry, according to the dispatch center.

About 25 people stopped by a Red Cross shelter Saturday for information, water, snacks and other assistance. An additional 15 people stopped by on Sunday, said Red Cross spokeswoman Paula Fasano Negele.

Crews focused Sunday on preventing the fire from spreading east and south toward the homes, said Lisa Clark, a spokeswoman for the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center. To the west, they hoped to protect the watershed that supplies drinking water for the City of Bend.

He said stronger winds of up to nearly 20 mph posed a challenge for firefighters on Monday.

As a precaution, the city switched off its surface water and began relying entirely on groundwater. Groundwater supplies are sufficient for Bend's needs, but the city asked residents to conserve nonetheless to save water for fire fighting.

Fire crews had no estimate when the fire would likely be contained.