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Crews mop up 10-acre Big Canyon Fire near Lake Billy Chinook; Three Rivers evacuation alerts lifted

Three Rivers fire water drop Randy Panek 819-1
Randy Panek
Water-dropping planes and helicopters tackled a fire burning in the Three Rivers Area near Lake Billy Chinook Friday evening
Upper Canyon Rim Drive fire Culver Lake Billy Chinook
Jefferson County Sheriff's Office
Small but fast-growing fire prompted evacuation alerts in Three Rivers area Friday evening

(Update: Adding video, comments from resident who evacuated)

CULVER, Ore. (KTVZ) – Lake Chinook Fire & Rescue crews and other firefighters called in by the state on Saturday finished mopping up the 10 1/2 -acre Big Canyon Fire that threatened homes Friday on SW Upper Canyon Rim Drive, and all Three Rivers evacuation levels were lifted by Saturday evening.

“Thank you fire crews for all your hard work making this happen!” the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said in an update.

A thunderstorm ignited five new wildfires mostly south of Lake Billy Chinook Friday afternoon and the largest grew quickly, prompting the evacuation alerts before firefighters on the ground aided by water-dropping aircraft stopped its spread.

Fire officials said Saturday morning that all lines held overnight and the fire was mapped at about 10 1/2 acres. Firefighters completed bulldozer and hand lines and a hose lay around the fire's perimeter.

Level 2 "Get Set" evacuation alerts had been in effect for Three Rivers.

Mary Graff, a Three Rivers resident among those who evacuated, said Saturday, "It's just incredible to see the support that we had, and all the different vehicles and trucks, and crews that came in -- almost immediately hit the fire."

"We also saw the planes dropping their loads on the fire before we actually left our house," Graff said. "And we sat out here until 10 p.m. last night, and then we were allowed to go back in."

Graff said she's lived in other areas where wildfires hit, and there was nowhere near the same support.

Incident 775, named the Big Canyon Fire, was reported just after 5 p.m. Friday and at nightfall was estimated at about eight acres, officials said.

Six engine crews, a hand crew, a bulldozer, water tender and other resources responded on the ground, while in the air, two fire bosses, a single-engine air tanker (SEAT plane), a Type 2 helicopter and air attack plane helped firefighters on the ground.

Four large air tankers were ordered, officials said, but were stood down after fire bosses got a water line around the fire’s perimeter.

Lake Chinook Fire & Rescue officials said the Big Canyon Fire spread fast in juniper, bitterbrush and sage upslope toward the homes on Upper Canyon Rim Drive, but the air and ground attack stopped forward progress before dusk.

They said more state resources were called in Saturday morning, including a strike team of engines and a hand crew available from the Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal, along with an additional Oregon Department of Forestry task force. ODF assumed unified command with Lake Chinook Fire and Rescue Friday evening.

As for the smaller blazes, the largest was held to a quarter-acre, two others a tenth of an acre and one was a single-tree fire.

The large fire broke out in the area of Southwest Upper Canyon Drive, and by 6 p.m. prompted a Level 2 “Get Set” alert for all of Three Rivers. The state's wildfire dashboard on our Fire Alert page said it had grown to about 10 acres by 6:40 p.m.

“Evacuation Warning. Significant Risk,” the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office advised on Facebook. “Pack your vehicle and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.”

The Three Rivers Landowners Association said in its Facebook posts that the sheriff had called a Level 3 "Go Now!" evacuation in the Upper Canyon Rim Drive area. It also shared photos and videos of the aerial attack as it made good progress to stop the blaze's spread.

Sheriff's dispatchers said deputies had gone door to door in the affected area. Cove Palisades State Park reportedly was offering to take in evacuees.

The agency thanked all the fire crews who responded from several agencies and Forest Service law enforcement who helped deputies notify area residents.

Article Topic Follows: Fire Alert
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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

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