Smokers' carelessness sparks string of Bend fires

Worst of five fires burned several homes, campers

Fire in SE Bend destroys homes and...

BEND, Ore. - (Update: Fire official gives apparent cause of blaze and neighbors react to fire)

A smoker's carelessness apparently sparked an intense, fast-moving fire that destroyed or damaged two homes, a mobile home and several other structures and vehicles in the area of a southeast Bend mobile home park Wednesday evening, one in a string of fires with that similar, preventable cause, officials said Thursday.

Crews responded around 6:40 p.m. Wednesday to the reported fire in the area of the Patio Mobile Home Park, at 355 Southeast Miller Avenue and an adjacent address on Woodland Boulevard, said Bend Fire Battalion Chief Dave Howe.

The first crews arrived to find several dwelling units and large Ponderosa pine trees burning, Howe said.

The initial engine used a “large-bore deck gun,” a nozzle mounted atop the fire engine, to knock down the body of the fire, Howe said. Nearly 30 firefighters used hand lines and tools to finish putting out the blaze and mop up.

Howe said the fire destroyed or damaged two houses, a mobile home, a large shed, two campers, a pickup truck and three camp trailers. A third house sustained minor damage, he added.

Bend Deputy Fire Marshal Dan Derlacki told NewsChannel 21 on Thursday the cause of the fire was determined to be smoking materials not fully extinguished when disposed of. A cigarette ignited other cigarettes in a disposal can on the back porch, spreading to a couch on the porch. The wind-driven fire then spread to a nearby camper and put up a large amount of black smoke. 

Battalion Chief Dave Howe said Thursday that firefighters have been busy around the clock with preventable fires traced to smoker's carelessness. 

"In the last 24 hours, we had six houses that have destroyed and two that have been damaged by fire. We've had three brush fires in addition to those -- and all because of improper disposal of smoking materials," he said.

In fact, Howe noted, Bend has had "more dwelling units destroyed in a 24-hour period by cigarettes than all the wildland fires we've had since 1996.". 

Some of the explosions heard by area residents were propane tanks on the RV, he said. 

Aimee Stuart lives next door to the damaged home and was told to get out by her next-door neighbor. 

Stuart said within 10 minutes, the fire spread quickly to nearby trees and other structures, the flames forcing Stuart and several neighbors to evacuate their homes.

She said a teenage boy was still in the house before crews arrived, scared to try to escape, so she decided to risk her life in saving the teen. 

A damage estimate was still being compiled Thursday.

Along with a reminder to be very careful when disposing of smoking materials, Howe also reminded residents of the importance of renters insurance. He said the occupants of the destroyed home on Miller Avenue did not have renters insurance. The homeowner had insurance to replace the structure, but that won't replace the renters' contents.

The battalion chief said renters insurance is usually a very inexpensive safety net for those who rent or lease. And he noted neighboring renters who had renters insurance are covered for the damage to their belongings.

On Wednesday evening, Howe said the fire began in the area of a house adjacent to the mobile home park and spread into it.

The second house, which sustained moderate damage, "was tucked way in there," Howe said. "It was impossible to see until the smoke cleared."

Howe said fuels already are quite dry, and that contributed to the rapid spread of the fire, along with “the congested arrangement of the (dwelling) units.”

Several witnesses reported hearing explosions, which Howe said turned out to be tires and aerosol cans exploding in the intense heat.

American Red Cross disaster responders were called in to provide assistance to two fire victims, an adult and child, along with pets. They provided help with immediate basic needs, which range from temporary housing to food, clothing, comfort kits with toiletry items and information about other services.

Deschutes County dispatchers said Miller Avenue and Woodland Boulevard were closed between Third and Fourth streets due to the firefighting efforts. They asked onlookers to avoid the area. The streets later reopened.

Mutual-aid support included a U.S. Forest Service brush engine, as well as one engine each from the Redmond and Sunriver fire departments to help cover other Bend fire needs.

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