September 03, 2001 11:00 pm

By The Observer

Quick response has been the key to keeping a fire in the Beaver Creek watershed from getting out of hand.

After four days of intense firefighting, the Boulevard Fire about 20 miles from La Grande remained at about 50 acres this morning, with containment expected by 6 p.m. Wednesday.

We were very lucky, said Kevin Kennedy, information officer for the Northwest Oregon Interagency Fire Team.

The cause of the fire near the Beaver Creek Reservoir remains unknown, but Kennedy said a state investigative team that began research Monday has narrowed the area. No lightning strikes have been reported in the area of the fire.

Much of the work now is mop up, as small spot fires continue to be found inside and outside the fire perimeter, Kennedy said.

We have a couple of crews at the east end of the fire crawling around on the ground looking under logs and debris for hot spots, he said. Weve found hot spots as far away as three-quarters of a mile from the fire.

The blaze was spotted late Friday afternoon and helicopters and planes with retardant were dispatched. Kennedy said that retardant drops stopped a couple of days ago, but helicopters were pouring water on the blaze late Monday afternoon.

The fire team spotted another blaze Monday afternoon across the Grande Ronde River from the fire camp. The team immediately sent a crew and ordered water drops.

The local crews just washed the fire down the hill, Kennedy said. It was a potential disaster.

The Boulevard Fire is burning in an old-growth forest near the watershed that would supply La Grandes water should the citys wells fail.

The U.S. Forest Service, manager of the land, has proposed a plan to remove some of the dead standing and downed timber, but the plan has not been approved.

This fire shouldve been giant, because of the dryness and the amount of fuel, Kennedy said. Were lucky it stayed as small as it did.