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Escaped La Pine debris burn threatens homes, prompts alerts

La Pine Bridge Drive brushfire DCSO 229-2
Deschutes County Sheriff's Office
Brush fire brought numerous crews to area of Bridge Drive in La Pine Saturday afternoon

(Update: Details from La Pine Fire captain)

La PINE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- An escaped debris burn, fanned by gusty winds, jumped the Little Deschutes River late Saturday afternoon, got to within about 20 yards of two La Pine homes and prompted alert calls to residents and the precautionary call-out of a regional structural protection task force, an official said.

La Pine Rural Fire District Captain Gary Young said the fire in the 53000 block of Bridge Drive was reported around 3:25 p.m. and was fueled by dry, flash fuels, including dried, dead cheatgrass that "burns year round" and groups of willows that have "tons of oil in them. Theyl'll take off any time of year."

Westerly winds of 20 mph, gusting to about 25 mph, pushed the flames to the east, jumping the Little Deschutes and moving toward a row of homes on Riverview Drive, Young said. That's where the first elements of the structural protection task force were staged.

There were no actual evacuations, he said, but the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office used its emergency phone network to call 117 residents within a one-mile radius of the fire, advising to be ready to leave if necessary.

The task force was called up "proactively," Young said, because "I didn't know what the wind was going to do." Sunriver and Bend crews were on hand, but "luckily, the wind did calm down a little bit later into the incident. Then we got a handle on it."

Young said the Oregon Department of Forestry and some crews from the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center also were called in, to help investigate the fire.

The fire "wasn't racing," he said, but the light, flashy fuels and dried, dead grasses kept it on the move. "Had we had no wind, it would have been just a small, creeping fire."

Young said it's fairly common to call up a task force early on, due to the travek distances involved, then stand them down if things improve.

"It's better to be safe than sorry," he said.

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Barney Lerten

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