BEND, Ore. - One week after two fires exploded to life northwest of Bend and eventually merged to burn nearly 7,000 acres, the Two Bulls Fire was declared fully contained Saturday, officials said.
An Oregon Department of Forestry team transfered command of fire management to a Type 3 team working out of the Sisters unit of the ODF at 4 p.m. Saturday, the time at which the fire was declared 100 percent contained.
Five crews and support totaling 100 personnel remained on the lines Saturday, along with two helicopters, nine engines, two bulldozers and two water tenders.
The transition team will work to extinguish any remaining smokes and recover equipment. The local ODF fire staff will patrol the fire and monitor for smokes frequently throughout fire season. If residents spot smoke, they are advised to call 911.
The Skyliners Road area evacuation alert was lifted Friday. No evacuation levels remain in effect.
Forest Service Roads 4601, 4602, 4603, and 4606 remain closed. The Phil's Trail Mountain bike area is open.
The Two Bulls Fire burned 6,908 acres and its firefighting cost has reached $5.7 million.
For questions or information about the Two Bulls Fire, call (541) 549-2731.
In the final message from Two Bulls Fire officials read: "Thank you Bend area community, the local Joint Information Center (JIC) agencies (the City of Bend Fire Department, City of Bend Communication and Media Department, Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, Deschutes County Public Communications Office, the American Red Cross Oregon Mountain River Chapter, and U.S. Forest Service) for your support, hospitality, and understanding during the #TwoBullsFire. We're hoping not to have any, but if there are future large fires, please monitor the blog for updates.
"To help thank and protect the firefighters, protect your community, and protect your homes, get FireFree. FireFree can help you create a fire-resistant zone around your home!
"Thanks again and have a great summer!"
Early Friday afternoon, the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office lifted the Level 1 pre-evacuation advisory for about 50 homes near Skyliners Road west of Bend where residents were urged to flee last Saturday and were out of the area for two days.
County Emergency Services Manager Sgt. Nathan Garibay noted that are still some U.S. Forest Service Road closures in place, and urged residents to visit the Central Oregon Fire Information blog at http://www.centraloregonfireinfo.blogspot.com for more information on the changes.
Garibay added, "The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office would like to thank the Oregon Department of Forestry, Deschutes National Forest and all of the other agencies involved in the response and management of the Two Bulls Fire."
"We would further like to thank the citizens and visitors of Deschutes County for their overwhelming support and patience throughout this incident," he said.
Here's the Friday morning fire update:
"As firefighters expand the mop-up zone around the fire, the current Incident Management Team prepares to transition command of the Two Bulls Fire back to local control forces.
"This transition time is an organized process to account for equipment, package documentation, and send excess resources home for needed rest and preparation for future events. The "hand-off" to local forces should occur on Saturday.
"Many local residents reported smoke plumes Thursday. Gusty winds created swirls of ash which mimicked smoke columns. Residents can be assured that firefighters are patrolling in these areas and continue mopping up to create a 300-500 foot buffer zone around the fire perimeter.
"State Forester Doug Decker and Fire Protection Division Chief Nancy Hirsch visited firefighters at camp Friday. They also made a visit to the Joint Information Center which coordinated fire information among all involved agencies and kept the local community informed.
Decker commented, "I was pleased to see and impressed by the immediate and direct action on the fire, both during initial attack and in the days that followed. "
"Those combined efforts, in the face of some very challenging fuels and burning conditions, stopped the fire. I was also struck by the amazing outpouring of community support. It really made a difference for the team and was an expression of the high level of cooperation that has occurred throughout this incident."
As evacuation alerts are reduced or end, the U.S. Forest Service has reopened much of the closed area in the woods west of Bend -- including most of the popular Phil's Trail mountain biking area.
The "current fire information" on the Thursday morning update from the Central Oregon Fire Information Center painted a picture of how things looked, starting the sixth day of the battle:
"More than 630 firefighters rolled out of the Two Bulls Fire Camp this morning, rumbling to their fireline assignments in crew-carrying vans, pickup trucks, fire engines and water tenders.
"The men and women assigned to fight the fire had gotten out of their tents at 4:30 a.m., breakfasted on chorizo sausage, fried potatoes, beans, tortillas and salsa, swallowed countless gallons of coffee, juice and milk, and reported to morning briefing at 5:30.
"At the briefing, the firefighters crowded around a small stage where a large map of the fire was stapled to a sheet of plywood, and heard the day shift operations chief outline their work objectives.
"Most of the firefighters would be spending their day on the Two Bulls Fire's west and southwest flanks. Their mission was to extinguish every lick of flame, every smoke within 300 feet of the fireline – and then go farther.
"The mission to steadily increase the dead-out ring of black around the fire decreases the chance that the fire could escape, should some places inside the heart of the Two Bulls Fire rekindle during the afternoon when strong winds (gusts to 25 mph) are expected.
Operations Section Chief Joe Hessel said Wednesday's day-shift crews were "whole-hog into mop-up," the tedious process of completely extinguishing the fire, now extending 300 feet and farther in from the east flank fire line, 150 to 300 feet on the west and south sides, and 100-200 feet inside the north line.
Hoses now encircle the blaze – which began as two fires Saturday afternoon, now deemed "suspicious" – and were being used by the more than 160 night-crew firefighters as they keep putting out every flaming log or smoking stump.
More than 230 firefighters were released from the fire Wednesday, and more overnight, leaving 638 personnel Thursday using three helicopters, 46 inches, 11 bulldozers and 15 water tenders.
In less than a week, the estimated suppression cost has climbed to about $4.3 million.
While the reward fund money flowed in for whoever provides information to solve the possible arson, totaling $26,500 by late Wednesday, the widening fire lines have allowed for dropping evacuation alert levels, to Level 1 starting Thursday for previously evacuated Skyliners Road homes west of Bend, and no more Level 1 (or any) alerts for close to 2,000 homes on Bend's Westside.
A Forest Service closure area around the blaze also is being scaled back, allowing many (but not all) roads and trails to reopen.
The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office announced that the Skyliners Road area west of Bend will be reduced to a Level 1 evacuation notice, the lowest level, which means that residents only must take precautions, not be ready to leave at a moment's notice.
Meanwhile, the Level 1 evacuation notice is being lifted, also at 8 a.m. Thursday, for the Saddleback subdivision and other areas, totaling 2,000 homes, that were imposed after the fire broke out over the weekend.
Capt. Shane Nelson said sheriff's deputies are patrolling the area, and will continue to do so through the weekend, along with U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement patrols.
Also, the Deschutes National Forest Bend-Ft Rock Ranger District is reducing the area closure in place since Sunday, as of midnight Wednesday.
Forest Service roads that surround the reduced closure include 4601 north of the junction with 4603, 4602 north of the junction with 4601 and 4606 north of the junction with 4601 and south of the junction with 4608.
That means three trails -- Mrazek, Tumalo Creek and Farewell -- will remain closed.
Firefighters spent a "chilly but productive" night working on the Two Bulls Fire, said Mike Carlson, the night operations supervisor, Wednesday morning. Overnight temperature plummeted into the 30s while crews hunted down and extinguished smokes and embers 100-300 feet inside the fire line.
The two blazes that merged to become the Two Bulls Fire broke out midday Saturday near Tumalo, 10 miles northwest of Bend. By early Sunday, the fire had burned more than 6,000 acres of private mostly forestland and federal lands on the Deschutes National Forest. It's grown by less than 1,000 acres since that time, due to a major firefighting effort.
On Tuesday, a fire that was hit hard and caught a 1/4 acre suddenly appeared outside of the Two Bulls Fire's fire line and south of Skyliners Road.Helicopters and engines from the Two Bulls Fire quickly attacked the blaze and brought it under control.
Authorities later deemed that fire suspicious -- just like the Two Bulls blazes -- and boosted the reward fund to a total of $14,500, nearly doubling by late Thursday to $26,500.
No structures have been lost or damaged in the 5-day-old blaze.
After meeting with fire officials Tuesday evening, the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office lowered the Skyliners Road evacuation notice from Level 3, urging all residents to leave, to Level 2, which means they should still be ready to go at a moment's notice. As a result, deputies said they still will only allow residents into the area, and urge caution for returning homeowners, as there is still only one main exit out of the area.
Earlier Tuesday, the sheriff's office lowered the Level 2 evacuation advisory for a wide swath of Bend's western outskirts to Level 1, meaning only that residents should take precautions but likely don't face a call to leave quickly. \
As a result, three schools that were closed for two days – Miller Elementary, Cascade Middle School and Summit High – will reopen Wednesday, officials said – just in time for finals for many students and the last days of school for all.
The National Weather Service issued a "red flag warning" for 2 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, meaning "critical fire weather" across Central Oregon. But fire crews knew they were coming and were able to get lines in place to handle the buffeting.
Fire managers credited "aggressive mop-up operations" on the eastern and southern portions of the fire" for the ability to hold the lines during the late afternoon and evening pickup in winds.
With all the progress, one of the three structure protection task forces mobilized under the state Emergency Conflagration Act has been sent home, "and the need for the remaining task forces will be evaluated."
With information ever-changing throughout the day, Two Bulls Fire officials held a public meeting at Bend High Monday evening to give an update and answer questions about the fire's status, giving a cautiously optimistic outlook.
About 200 attendees learned that even though this fire occurred before the season officially started, it might have been at the right time, so to speak.
With no other fire of this magnitude happening in the nation, all resources have been sent to the High Desert, which has helped with containment.
"By no means are we out of the woods yet, but we're making tremendous progress," said Tom Fields, Oregon Department of Forestry public information officer.
It's progress that has many fire officials feeling optimistic about the outlook for this fire in coming days.
However, much work still remains to be done.
Fire behavior analyst Jeff Bell said the region's forest fuels are at 12 percent moisture, a situation we'd normally be seeing in August.
"One of the reasons it made a big push through there is because fuels are extremely dry, historic for this time of year," Bell said.
Officials said fire behavior dictates air quality, which will be determined by the flow of the winds.
"Our winds are predominantly from the northwest throughout the day, which lifts the smoke and transports it through the south," said air resource specialist Jinny Reed.
That's something officials expect more of going forward.
"It's going to continue that way," Bell said. "We've had some predictions of gusts to 20 miles per hour at times. Of course, that's high level winds."
With current conditions, Fields said he believes the fire, now 25 percent contained, is winding down, but crews will continue to stay alert.
"Things are very positive right now, but we know that fire is very unpredictable," Fields said. "The weather could change on us, we could get some severe weather in the next couple of days, but so far that's just not the case."
Fields went on to point out that not a single home has burned in a local wildfire since 2003.