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Aggressive air, ground attack stops 204-acre Cowboy Fire in Juniper Canyon; all evacuation levels dropped

One of many retardant drops on the Cowboy Fire in Juniper Canyon, caught by Jennifer McDonald

(Update: Fire mapped at over 200 acres; all evacuation alerts dropped)

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) – An aggressive air and ground assault, including well over a dozen retardant drops, stopped a more than 200-acre wildfire that broke out late Friday afternoon in Juniper Canyon southeast of Prineville, and all evacuation notices were lifted Saturday morning.

The Cowboy Fire that broke out around 3:30 p.m. burned 204 acres, primarily on BLM land but also some private land, Crook County Emergency Manager Michael Ryan said Saturday. There were no injuries or structures lost, thanks to the 80 personnel from several agencies called out to fight it.

The fire began in an area near Juniper Canyon Road, near milepost 8, Ryan said. Southerly winds pushed it to the northwest. A wind shift around 5 p.m. from the south to the northeast pushed a hot spot to the southeast, which was quickly tackled.

There were Level 3 (Go Now) evacuations and Level 2 (Get Set) alerts early on, dropped to Level 1 (Get Ready) for the area by nightfall. Ryan said all evacuation levels were being dropped as of 9:30 a.m. Saturday due to great progress on stopping the blaze, which was 100% bulldozer-lined.

“We had awesome air support,” Ryan said, which along with air tankers included two single-engine air tankers (SEAT planes) and a helicopter doing bucket drops of water pulled from nearby Prineville Reservoir.

A structure-protection task force was called out to protect homes after Incident 830, later named the Cowboy Fire, was reported by the Black Butte and Tower Point lookouts in the area of the 12100 block of Southeast Juniper Canyon Road, about nine miles southeast of Prineville.

"Aggressive use of aircraft, including single-engine air tankers, large air tankers and a Type 2 helicopter moderated fire behavior, allowing firefighters to establish fire lines and stop spread of the fire late this evening," an update shortly before 9 p.m. said.  

A bulldozer line was in place around a significant portion of the perimeter, with the remaining area lined with retardant, it said. Firefighters will widen the control line to secure the fire and ensure that it does not grow further.

Working from this line, officials said, they used water to cool areas of heat and knock down flames. Overnight, firefighters continued mop-up, patrol and strengthening the fireline. Saturday morning, mop-up work continued under a Type 3 organization.

Ryan said roads in the fire area were open to residents only Saturday. "Please use caution," he wrote in an update, as there is firefighting equipment on roads in the area.

Resources on the fire, battled in hot and windy conditions Friday, included numerous wildland fire engines, structural fire engines, water tenders, rappellers, hand crews and dozers.  Law enforcement personnel facilitated the evacuation of residences near the fire area. 

“We’ve made some pretty significant headway with the fire,” Crook County Fire & Rescue Division Chief Russ Deboodt said around 7:30 p.m.

Sheriff John Gautney said fire activity had "dropped drastically" by 8 p.m., so all evacuation levels dropped to Level 1 (Get Ready) at 9 p.m., followed by Saturday's lifting.

Crews worked Saturday to reinforce the bulldozer line and tackle hot spots within the fire perimeter, Ryan said.

Earlier, with the wind-fanned fire moving fast in juniper and grass, deputies had gone door to door to advise of Level 3 (Go Now) evacuations in one area and Level 2 (Get Set) pre-evacuation alerts for an area to the north.

The American Red Cross set up a shelter at Carey Foster Hall at the Crook County Fairgrounds in Prineville for people displaced or affected by the Cowboy Fire, Deboodt said.

Winds were pushing the fire toward the northwest early on, but shifted by evening, sending the fire backing slowly toward the east, the fire official said. So retardant drops shifted to the other side of the fire.

No structures were lost, Deboodt said. Juniper Canyon Road remained open for traffic, but the official asked people to avoid the area to keep things clear for firefighting efforts.

Air tankers from as far away as La Grande were called into drop retardant and slow the blaze, which forced Level 3 evacuations in the area. A bulldozer also was on scene working to help establish a fire line.

The Crook County Sheriff's Office had posted this evacuation map Friday evening on its Facebook page:

Crook County Sheriff's Office

Fire information officer Christie Shaw said the blaze by 6 p.m. had "checked up a bit," due to hitting rocky terrain and several retardant drops on its flanks. Still, she said, there's still "lots of line to build" amid shifting winds.

C.O. fire officials are tweeting updates as well.

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Barney Lerten

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

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