Central Oregon

Authorities ID Madras man killed on wildfire W. of Sisters

Co-worker from Sisters treated at hospital, released

SISTERS, Ore. - Two contract tree-fallers helping crews battle a blaze in the Mt. Washington Wilderness Area west of Sisters were struck by a falling tree snag Thursday, killing a 60-year-old Madras man and injuring a co-worker from Sisters, the U.S. Forest Service reported.

Thursday afternoon, the two men were identified as John Hammack. who died at the scene, and Norman Crawford, 45, of Sisters, who was taken to St. Charles-Bend, treated for his injuries and released.

Hammack and Crawford were tree fallers working on an initial attack crew near Dugout Lake in the Mt. Washington Wilderness Area on the Sisters Ranger District of the Deschutes National Forest.

The as-yet unidentified tree faller died at the scene, near Dugout Lake on the Sisters Ranger District of the Deschutes National Forest., and the injured Sisters man was taken to St. Charles-Bend for treatment of injuries, the agency announced.

The tree-falling crew, hired to cut down hazardous trees in fire areas,  worked for R&K Water Services out of Bonney Lake, Washington.

The incident was reported around 9:15 a.m. as the pair, part of an initial attack crew, helped fight one of a string of small lightning-sparked fires in the high Cascades of Central Oregon, which saw nearly 1,900 lightning strikes hit the region in 24 hours.

Capt. Gary Lovegren of the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District told the Associated Press the injured firefighter was able to walk, but no other details were immediately released on the extent of his injuries.

Rappel crews and a water-dropping helicopter responded to the scene to make it safe for authorities to head in.

Deschutes County Sheriff's Search and Rescue crews, and an ambulance headed to the area of Forest Roads 470 and 1030, about seven miles west of Sisters Thursday morning after the incident.

An AirLink helicopter reportedly headed to the area to assist in the rescue, as did sheriff's detectives and other personnel.

The steep, rugged terrain prompted call-out of several SAR members who specialize in mountain rescues.

Meanwhile, campers at the Lower Bridge Campground on the Metolius River northeast of Sisters were evacuated Thursday, so helicopters could safely dip for water to drop on a fire burning on Green Ridge, north of Black Butte, one of at least 17 fires burning around the region.

A 20-person hand crew was on that fire, which was not threatening the campground itself, the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center noted.

Crews responded to nearly 50 smoke reports around the region since the thunderstorms began rumbling in Wednesday afternoon, pelting the area with nearly 1,900 lightning strikes in the 24 hours ending at midday Thursday -- with more to come.

The storms continued overnight, and while many areas got welcome rain, officials said the Sisters area did not get as much. NewsChannel 21 Meteorologist Travis Knudsen said much of the precipitation fell as "virga," meaning it evaporated before it reached the ground.

The list of fires from COIDC, as of Thursday morning:

  • 5 small fires on Little Round Top Mountain on the border of the Willamette National Forest and the Deschutes National Forest.
  • 2 fires west of Cultus Mountain
  • 1 fire NE of Odell Butte
  • 1 fire one mile NE of the Junction of the Forest Roads 46 and 41
  • 4 small fires north of Suttle Lake
  • 2 fire 2 miles NE of Trout Creek Butte
  • 1 fire on Green Ridge
  • 1 fire 2 miles north of the junction of Forest Roads 22 and 23

Wednesday evening's most serious fire threatened homes in Squaw Creek Canyon Estates, about five miles north northeast of Sisters, but by nightfall, crews were strengthening lines around the 10-acre fire, said Jean Nelson Dean of the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville.

Two air tankers were called in to bombard the fire with retardant as engine crews tackled it on the ground. 

It was the highest-priority blaze because it threatened structures on state Department of Forestry-protected private land about fives miles northeast of Sisters, Nelson-Dean said. Crews remained on the fire Thursday to strengthen the lines.

About 700 lightning strikes had hit Central Oregon by 6 p.m., she said, and crews responded to more than 40 smoke reports before dark. Fortunately, rain fell in many areas and temperatures cooled as the storms moved through - but not enough to prevent several small new fires from emerging.

Two small fires about 3-4 miles west of Cultus Lake in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area were responded to by helicopter rappel crews due to their remote location, Nelson-Dean said.

About four miles northwest of Cultus Lake, smokejumpers also headed to a string of small fires around Little Round Top Mountain, on the border between the Willamette and Deschutes national forests.

Cultus Lake Resort assured Thursday there are no fires or road closures in their area, and that they remain open.

A tree on fire on Hawksbeard in Black Butte Ranch prompted evacuation of the nearby ranch lodge for a time as a precaution Wednesday afternoon.

Storms kept booming through the region overnight, with one loud clap of thunder awakening many in Bend around 5:15 a.m. Thursday.

On NewsChannel 21's Facebook page, La Pine resident Holly Thomas said the long, dry July weather broke late Wednesday with a downpour and "lots of ground lightning hits."

The NWS issued a red flag warning for Central and Eastern Oregon through late Thursday for abundant lightning and extreme fire danger; Knudsen said to expect a stormier day Thursday, with the storms moving in in the early afternoon.

Meanwhile, several bales of hay on a hay truck caught fire about four miles est of Bend on Hwy. 20, sending smoke across the highway. Whether that was storm-related or not was not immediately clear.

Coincidentally, the new fires emerged as the 51,000-acre Sunnyside Turnoff Fire that broke out a week and a half ago on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation was declared 100 percent contained.

The firefighting force has dropped to 117 personnel doing rehabilitation and patrol work. Full control is expected by Aug. 15.

We'll have updates on the storms and fires through the day and full forecasts and reports on NewsChannel 21 at Five and Six.

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