Five Bend and Redmond residents were cited Monday on reckless burning charges in connection with target practice with a substance called Tannerite that apparently ignited a 35-acre wildfire near Mayfield Pond on Sunday, authorities said.
Meanwhile, crews said the fire was 75 percent contained by Monday night.
After the initial investigation was completed, the five were cited into court for reckless burning, a Class A misdemeanor with $2,500 bail. They were identified as Redmond residents Peter Lee, 31, and Clarence Christy, 32, and Bend residents Albert Sears, 27; William Loving, 25; and Jordon Odell, 25, said Deschutes County sheriff’s Sgt. Vance Lawrence.
Lawrence said the substance used in target shooting, Tannerite, is not supposed to cause a fire, but is "expected to cause some kind of flash" when struck by bullets traveling at certain speeds. He said that "there's no argument" that a fire resulted in this case.
Lawrence said the five men have been cooperative in the investigation. Why five people were charged was that there "could be a cumulative effect" that led to the ignition, Lawrence said, not "one specific instance" of a gun being fired.
The Mayfield Fire, reported around 3:45 p.m. Sunday, jumped to the south side of Alfalfa Market Road, prompting sheriff's deputies to close the road from the pond, a popular recreation area, area, to Juniper Road to the east.
The road reopened around 11 p.m. Monday, though Lawrence said pilot cars were using one lane of travel to bring traffic through in alternate directions on Monday. Late Monday, Lawrence said the traffic restrictions were continuing but could be lifted overnight or on Tuesday, as circumstances permit.
He said Monday morning several trees still were burning in the fire area close to the road and advised that firefighter operations were continuing and motorists could expect increased traffic and potential hazards. If possible, drivers were urged to continue using other routes.
"Just us being on the road creates a hazard on the road for the public," said Rob Kephart, captain for the Prineville BLM hand crew, one of the first responders on scene.
"Typically, we see single trees burn and that's it," Kephart said. "But with a little bit of wind and the junipers as dry as they are, they are spotting from tree to tree."
Although an evacuation plan was in place, they didn't have to use it.
The nearest threatened home was a mile away, but that home was prepared for a fire.
The homeowners trimmed juniper trees around their home --- clearing the low-hanging branches off the ground.
"That was good to see, because that allowed us to plan to fire it out if necessary and protect the structure," Kephart said.
Firefighters say this is a good example of why defensible space is a good idea.
"There was a 40-acre residence that the guy had limbed up every inch of his property, and we were able to work off of that and save his property," Kephart said.
With predicted lightning storms passing through Eastern Oregon, rather than the High Desert this weekend, firefighters thought they’d gotten a break from new fire starts Sunday. Instead, they had to respond to seven human-caused wildfires, the largest the one near Mayfield Pond in Alfalfa, east of Bend.
When deputies arrived at the fire scene Sunday, Lawrence said they contacted several people at the pond who were shooting at the Tannerite, a substance used as a target for firearms that creates a loud, explosive noise when hit with a bullet.
Witnesses on scene reported a loud explosion, then a fire that grew fast to an estimated 35 acres and crossed Alfalfa Market Road just east of the pond entrance, Lawrence said.
A helicopter with a 100-gallon bucket scooped water out of Mayfield Pond to pour on the flames, and two more were being called in from Warm Springs, on loan from the Waterfalls 2 Fire.
The fire was encircled by a bulldozer line before nightfall, but Lawrence said Alfalfa Market Road was expected to be closed for some time due to the heavy firefighting traffic and the use of helicopters crossing the road.
No evacuations were needed, officials said. Earlier, Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center officials in Prineville said that "fire officials are carefully monitoring the fire’s progress, as there are structures within a mile of the fire."
The fire was fought by crews from the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, Oregon Department of Forestry and the city of Bend.
In addition to one 20-person hand crew and five engines, firefighters were being helped by a bulldozer crew, two water-dropping helicopters and two smaller retardant planes called SEATs (single-engine air tankers). Two additional helicopters also were being ordered, officials said.
The firefighters were helped by the proximity of the pond, according to Forest Service spokeswoman Nancy Wiggins, who called it a "very good water source" for both the water-scooping helicopters and the engines and water tenders.