Fear and flames: DRW house fire sparks wildfire

Roads shut, residents set to flee - but area 'dodged a bullet'

Fear and flames: DRW house fire sparks wildfire

BEND, Ore. - It was a sight sure to fill many with dread – a tall, black smoke column rising from Deschutes River Woods as a home in the heavily wooded subdivision south of Bend burned on a hot Friday afternoon, quickly spreading to nearby trees and grass and threatening other nearby homes.

And indeed, Shane and Jennifer Haller lost their manufactured home -- and a dog -- to the blaze that broke out around 3:30 p.m. at their home at 19599 Apache Road, while they were away, authorities and family members said. Another home also was damaged, as the fire spread fast and fiercely.

But quick action by several police and fire agencies held the wildfire to about 1.5 acres, and amid road closures, worried residents grabbing hoses to spray their roofs and fear a 1,000-gallon propane tank behind one nearby home might explode, the tragic loss was limited, and everyone agreed - it could have been a lot worse.

Friday night, Deputy Fire Marshal Dan Derlacki said their investigation found that the fire began as an electrical fire in the living room of the unoccupied home, with no one there to spot or report it. It soon spread outside – "and then the wind drove the fire from there," he said.

Neighbors called in the fire and reported it spreading quickly into the brush behind the home, and onto adjacent parcels.

Bend fire officials quickly called in Oregon Department of Forestry and U.S. Forest Service crews to help battle the spreading wildfire – about 40 firefighters all told, working as brisk winds pushed the fire toward the southeast and other homes.

Deschutes County sheriff's deputies, Oregon State Police troopers and Bend police helped close roads, warn neighbors and keep the public out of the fire's path, including many who stopped to gawk – always something first responders plead with folks not to do.

The region's Structural Protection Task Force No. 2 (made up of Redmond, Sunriver, Sisters, Black Butte and Cloverdale firefighters) was called up and getting ready to head in and help protect the rural homes.

The spreading fire also damaged a home to the south, along with destroying an older car on that property, a lot of fencing, a ski boat and a small storage outbuilding with tools and equipment in it, Derlacki said.

"DRW and those neighbors along Apache and Cinder Butte definately dodged a bullet yesterday," Derlacki said Saturday morning. "Hot, dry air with a good breeze threatened a lot of homes."

"A combination of some good defensible space and quick, agressive action by fire crews kept the damage to a minimum. If either of those factors were not there yesterday (fire crews or def. space) things could have ended much worse."

"The potential for the fire to spread to a much larger area was there, and traffic was heavy toward the end of work on a Friday," Derlacki said.

Baker Road, the main eastside way in and out of DRW off Highway 97, was shut for a time as crews responded, with ODOT and Deschutes County road crews assisting. Apache and Cinder Butte roads were closed for hours as crews made sure the fire was out and wouldn't threaten evacuations.

But within an hour of the first call, as some residents threw things into their car, leaving or preparing to, word came over police radios that the firefighting force already on scene had managed to carve lines on all four sides of the blaze, and that widespread evacuations would not be necessary.

When it was all over, Derlacki said losses totaled $300,000 – two-thirds of that the house, one-third the contents, including vehicles and an outbuilding.

But fires can rekindle, and Derlacki said crews stayed on scene past 10 p.m. Friday and would be on hand throughout Saturday to make sure the fire is fully extinguished and the wildland areas are mopped up. Temperatures are expected to cool a bit, but still rise to the 80s.

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