Three occupants out of SUV before it's engulfed
(Update: Adding video, Kettering comments on dry conditions)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A driver who swerved to avoid a deer crossing U.S. Highway 97 in southern Bend crashed and sparked a brushfire Sunday morning that closed the highway for a brief time and cut power to about 2,400 Pacific Power customers .
The SUV ran off the highway shortly after 11:30 a.m. near milepost 143, at Highway 97 and Ponderosa Street.
Within minutes came reports of one or more trees and brush on fire, and ODOT TripCheck's camera pointing south from Rocking Horse road showed smoke billowing across the highway, which was soon closed southbound and then in both directions.
The SUV's three occupants were out of the vehicle and being checked by medics with no major injuries. It later became fully engulfed, spreading to adjacent trees and brush, witnesses and officials said.
Bend Fire & Rescue Deputy Fire Marshal Cindy Kettering confirmed the driver said she had swerved to avoid a deer crossing the highway and ran off the road.
Kettering said an investigation determined the 2001 Toyota 4Runner got stuck after it left the road, and efforts to remove it led to vegetation and pine needles coming in contact with the SUV's hot exhaust components and ignited the fire.
Bend Fire crews quickly were on scene to encircle the reported quarter-acre fire amid winds reaching 20 mph, but an official said there was damage to power equipment and utility poles.
Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt said crews turned off power in the immediate area, affecting about 2,350 customers, as fire crews worked in the area, but had it restored before 2 p.m. Track outages at their Oregon map.
Northbound lanes reopened shortly after the fire was knocked down, by around noon, with a southbound lane following minutes later; one remained closed for a while longer due to firefighter and utility work. Follow traffic updates at our TripCheck page.
"Even though today's weather is cooler, you can sill see things are very, very dry, and we've got some wind today," Kettering told NewsChannel 21 at the scene.
"As we head into the Fourth of July holiday week, fire danger is very high, and people need to be very careful with fire," she added.
Kettering said Oregon Department of Forestry and U.S. Forest Service crews were called in to help fight the blaze in windy conditions and dense vegetation. ODOT, Deschutes County sheriff's deputies and Oregon State Police also provided assistance.