La PINE, Ore. - Family friends helping a woman who is out of town getting cancer treatments accidentally sparked a fire that heavily damaged her home south of Sunriver Tuesday, officials said.
"You feel for these people – they tried to do the right thing," said La Pine Rural Fire District Chief Mike Supkis -- but nevertheless, improperly disposed of ashes from a debris burn ignited a blaze that spread into Sally Miller's double-wide manufactured home at 55869 Blue Eagle Road, off Vandervert Road and South Century Drive.
Neighbors called in the fire around 11:30 a.m., saying they could see smoke and flames coming from the back of the house, Supkis said.
And although the first firefighters from the S. Century fire station -- just a half-mile away -- were there within three minutes, one-fourth of the home already had gone up in smoke, Supkis said. Despite a quick knockdown, about half of the home was lost.
Nearly 20 firefighters and support personnel responded, including two engines and a water tender, Supkis said. Sunriver firefighters and Deschutes County sheriff's officers also provided assistance at the scene. Supkis noted the fire district was transporting a patient to Bend and handling two other emergency medical calls at the time.
There were no injuries, Supkis said, and a loss estimate was still being compiled.
The preliminary cause of the fire is believed to be improper disposal of ashes. Supkis said family friends in the past few days were helping Miller, who is in Nevada undergoing long-term cancer treatment, by cleaning up the property and prepare the home to be sold.
That included outdoor debris burning of paper and wood items, which the fire chief said is allowed in that area, with a permit.
"Apparently, they got done burning and made an extra effort to put the fire out," Supkis said. "But they also dug up all the ashes in the fire pit and dumped them into a wheelbarrow and a 30-gallon plastic garbage can."
Because the homeowner had been out of town for some time, the lawn had not been mowed. The ashes melted and burned through the garbage can, then ignited the tall, dry grass, sparking a fire that then burned onto the deck and up into the home's windows, the fire chief said.
Firefighters issued a reminder after the fire that, where and when open burning is permitted, a burn permit is required – and the burn must be continually monitored.
"Also never, ever dispose of ashes in a plastic garbage container," they added.