Deschutes County

Teen cited in Bend transient camp brushfire

Mom also cited, for failure to supervise child

Neighbors react after fire sparks in transient camp

BEND, Ore. - A 14-year-old girl staying at a large homeless camp with her mother just east of Bend has been cited in connection with Thursday's brushfire after investigators determined it's likely a fire pit near her tent was not properly extinguished the night before, Deschutes County sheriff's deputies said late Sunday night.

The teen, who authorities did not identify, was cited and released on charges of reckless burning, recklessly endangering another person and second-degree criminal mischief, Sgt. Troy Gotchy said in a news release. The girl's mother, Ruth Johnson, 41, of Bend, also was cited, for failure to supervise a child, Gotchy added.

Deputies had said Friday that the 14-year-old girl who was in the area of the homeless camp with her mother suffered minor burns to her arm and was taken to St. Charles-Bend by fire medics.

The fire was reported shortly after 2:30 p.m. at a transient camp south of Neff Road and west of Hamby Road, said sheriff's Lt. Tim Leak.

The fire quickly put up a tall smoke plume as winds pushed it to the south, area roads were closed and firefighters protected homes as it burned nearly four acres before being doused.

Eight transients, including the juvenile, were evacuated from the fire area and cited by deputies for trespassing.

A joint investigation by the sheriff's office and the Bend Fire Department said a large homeless camp had been set up on the property, and the girl was staying in a tent about 50 yards from the main camp, Gotchy said.

The fire investigator determined the fire began near the teen's tent, then spread to the west and south, damaging sagebrush and juniper trees, along with property belonging to an area homeowner.

Peggy Morris, whose home was in the fire's path, watched and worried as firefighters raced to put the flames out.

"I saw it coming up, and it was just mushrooming and exploding back there," Morris said.

The arriving deputies found sagebrush and juniper on private property engulfed in flames, Leak said.

Deputy Fire Marshal Dan Derlacki said winds of 10 mph pushed the fire to the south. Crews from the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Department of Forestry and Redmond and Sunriver fire departments helped stop the fire, which burned 3.7 acres, Derlacki said.

The fire spread on a 67-acre parcel of land owned by TNTM LLC of Eugene, Derlacki said. Junipers and some trees could be seen igniting in flames as crews tackled the blaze.

Sheriff's deputies, Oregon State Police and county road crews helped shut down Neff and Hamby roads during the fire operations.

"My husband has found evidence of fires being starting back there," Morris said. "It was just a time bomb waiting to happen."

She added that there have been numerous problems with transient camps over the years.

"We've had holes dug back across the fence, 5 feet by 5 feet, where someone I guess was planning to winter," Morris said.

Sheriff Larry Blanton told NewsChannel 21 at the scene that the county "has an issue with homeless camps on the outskirts of town," and said his office is aggressively trying to make sure camps are legal and safe.

"Do they have permission to be there?" Blanton said. "If they do have permission to be there, are they are operating in a safe manner? And apparently this was not that way and threatened some houses here."

Hamby Road was closed from Neff Road to Highway 20, and Neff was closed from Hamby to Eagle roads while firefighters battled the blaze, visible for miles. They reopened by evening.

Leak said the fire was confined to trees and sagebrush, with no structures damaged.

The fire threatened a home on Hamby Road, but Derlacki said the homeowners had created good defensible space and crews were able to keep the fire from reaching it.

U.S. Forest Service crews were called in, as well as Redmond and Sunriver fire departments, the Oregon Department of Forestry, sheriff's deputies, Bend police and Oregon State Police, according to Deschutes County 911 dispatchers.

Sheriff's deputies also helped area residents round up and move horses that could be threatened by the blaze.

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