CREWS GAIN ON FIRE THAT DESTROYED 17 HOMES

July 14, 2002 11:00 pm
BATTLING EYERLY FIRE: A Huey helicopter drops 250 gallons of water on a spot fire on the south side of the Metolius River on Friday. The wildfire destroyed 18 homes in a subdivision.  (The Bulletin, Bend/LYLE COX).
BATTLING EYERLY FIRE: A Huey helicopter drops 250 gallons of water on a spot fire on the south side of the Metolius River on Friday. The wildfire destroyed 18 homes in a subdivision. (The Bulletin, Bend/LYLE COX).

MADRAS (AP) — Crews battling a 17,000-acre wildfire that destroyed at least 17 homes in rugged high desert country are making progress and may have the blaze contained by the end of the week, officials said on Monday.

‘‘We made significant advances yesterday. We expect to continue those today,'' said Rock Gerke, deputy incident commander at the Eyerly Fire.

The 1,000 firefighters are being assisted by a change in the weather.

‘‘They've had higher humidity and lower temps so that's helping them out. It's still a concern though,'' said Jeree Mills, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Fire Coordination Center.

Mills said 17 homes in a subdivision about 10 miles west of this Central Oregon town were destroyed by the fire. However, officials at the fire camp said 18 homes were destroyed.

The blaze also burned 13 sheds, six detached garages and three travel trailers in the development, Mills said. One home and five sheds were damaged and two cars destroyed, she said.

On Sunday, residents of the subdivision got their first look at the twisted sheet metal, charred furniture and melted glass of their ruined homes.

Firefighters in yellow jackets escorted the group past smoldering stumps, piles of ash and twisted, scorched sheet metal roofing — all that was left of houses in the path of the fire.

‘‘By the time it got to our place, it was pretty well gone,'' said Merritt Williams, a retired government engineer with a five-acre lot on the subdivision.

His house was burned to ash but a shop was left standing.

Firefighters had fought the blaze house to house, and managed to save most of the structures in the 200-home development, said David Widmark, a fire center spokesman. Crews poured water and fire retardant on the homes and cleared away brush and trees.

Evacuees were taken to Jefferson County Middle School, Widmark said.

The fire, which started from lightning, had moved quickly in prime wildfire conditions, Widmark said.

An evacuation order remained in effect for the 200 homes in the Three Rivers subdivision and 80 homes in the nearby Forest Park and Chinook Village developments.

The blaze had zigzagged and jumped containment lines several times. The fire jumped a line on its south side late Friday night and burned 800 acres, forcing officials to pull firefighters off that side.

Earlier last week, the fire jumped the Metolius River and began burning in a roadless area in the Deschutes National Forest.

Elsewhere, several large fires burned a total of about 100,000 acres in Oregon:

• The Malheur Complex near Prairie City grew to 5,700 acres Sunday. Officials had closed at least one campground and several roads.

• The Trimbly Creek fire in the high desert near the Idaho border in southeastern Oregon burned 46,000 acres of remote grassland and threatened the Idaho town of Homedale.

• The Bisquit fire southwest of Cave Junction had burned 300 acres.

• The Tool Box fire west of Summer Lake had burned about 7,355 acres by Monday morning.

SMOKE FROM MONUMENT FIRE FILLS AIR

High winds, high temperatures, thunderstorms and smoke from the Monument fire near Unity caused a variety of problems Saturday for Union County residents.

Although the county again avoided a major fire start, winds blew dense smoke from the Monument Fire into the valley. A spokeswoman for the Forest Service said the fire suddenly "blew up," creating massive smoke.

As of this morning, the fire had grown to about 17,300 acres and was burning on the Malheur and Wallowa-Whitman national forests. The fire has burned in timber and grazing lands, including more than a square mile of private property.

Should the fire continue to grow, as many as five homes may be in jeopardy, but a building protection plan is in place, according to information from the Forest Service.

Fifty-nine people are assigned to the Monument Fire, along with aircraft, engines and dozers. There is no estimated date for containment.

On Saturday, several scattered thunderstorms accompanied by high winds caused trees to fall along highways in the Grande Ronde Valley. Trees fell across roads in Elgin, Union and other outlying areas. A tree blocked parts of both lanes along Highway 203 near Union.

Only one major power outage was caused by the high winds. The downtown Elgin and Palmer Junction areas were without electricity from 3 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, according to the Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative. Scattered outages were reported in the Union and Telocaset areas. All were caused by high winds knocking branches onto power lines.

The Umatilla National Forest reported numerous fire starts Saturday afternoon. But by this morning only 15 small fires, all under an acre, were still burning on public land.

About 150 acres of wheat burned Saturday next to Tubbs Ranch Road in East Umatilla County, but that fire was contained.

Although scattered thunderstorms are predicted for Northeast Oregon this afternoon and evening, the chance of storms is only 20 percent, according to the National Weather Service.

Continued hot temperatures are expected, with highs in the lower 90s at La Grande.