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Officials: Backyard burn sparked fire that leveled home near La Pine


(Update: Adding video, neighbors’ comments; evacuation levels lifted; Redmond also closes burning)

A backyard debris burn sparked a 12-acre wildfire north of La Pine on Wednesday afternoon that destroyed one home and threatened several others, prompting evacuation orders and road closures, authorities said Thursday.

Fire lines held overnight and crews were continuing mop-up Thursday on the 12-acre Bridge Drive Fire in the Lazy River subdivision, according to Christie Shaw, public information officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Central Oregon District. The mop-up work was 20 percent complete, she said.

Firefighters were working to extinugish any hot spots and look for any still-burning or smoldering material within the fire perimeter, which includes several homes. Thursday’s resources included the Redmond Hot Shots, seven engines, a water tender and overhead personnel.

A Level 1 “Be Ready” evacuation notice remained in place Thursday, but Deschutes County sheriff’s Sgt. William Bailey said later in the day after consultation with fire managers that it would be lifted at sunset.

Fred Weingartner, who lives next door to the destroyed home, was evacuated and spent a few hours at a Red Cross shelter set up at the La Pine Community Center. During that time, he had no idea if his home was safe or not.

“It was pretty nerve-racking when we were coming back, because we weren’t sure what we were going to find,” he said. “Got here and my driveway was just full of fire trucks, which added to being nervous. We walked up to the house and it was totally intact without any damage, so we really lucked out.”

Neighbor Mike McCarter’s home was spared from the fire by only a few feet. He said Thursday he he felt lucky to still have it standing. NewsChannel 21 asked what was going through his mind while the fire was burning.

“Scared, but in awe of just how awesome and how powerful it was, and how fast it moved,” McCarter said. “The sounds and the noise sounded like a hurricane going through the woods. It was just unbelievable to watch.”

Shaw said the home on Loop Drive that was destroyed by the fire was not the location of the backyard burn that sparked the blaze.

“At this point, negligence has not been determined,” she said. “We just want the public to be aware that if it is determined that they were not being cautious, they could be responsible.”

Shaw said late Friday that mop-up work had been completed, but patrols of the fire area would continue over the weekend.

Shaw had these these recommendations for debris burns: “Always have fire tools such as a shovel and water source on site while you are burning. Clear the area around your fire to mineral soil before ignition. If your fire gets out of control, immediately report it to 911. A landowner who is found to be negligent while burning may be held responsible for suppression costs, as well as be subject to citations.”

Other options for pine needle and ladder fuel debris disposal are to chip on site or haul to the Deschutes County transfer site. On May 17 and 18, the South Transfer Station will accept yard debris for free as part of the FireFree program, the fire district noted.

The Bend Fire Department and Deschutes County Fire District No. 2 also have closed their coverage area to debris burning through Sunday due to predicted warm, windy and dry conditions. Redmond Fire & Rescue also has closed burning, Fire Marshal Traci Cooper said.

“Predicted weather patterns for the next several days increase the risk of escaped debris burns,” Shaw said in Thursday’s update. “Consider using a no-burn option for disposing of yard debris or other vegetation, or wait until the weather is better for burning.

“Some no burn options include chipping or transporting the material to a disposal site. Open burning may be banned in some areas as this warm, dry weather passes through. Check with your local fire department or Oregon Department of Forestry before conducting debris burning.”

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