Jefferson County

Fire-threatened Three Rivers looks back to Eyerly

2002 blaze destroyed 18 homes; much prep done since

Residents remember fire

CULVER, Ore. - At 6,300 acres, the Bridge 99 Fire has put residents of one area on high alert with the flames heading north -- and thinking back to 2002, when 18 homes in their subdivision were destroyed by wildfire.

Residents of the Three Rivers subdivision and other neighborhoods near Lake Billy Chinook were preparing for the worst-case scenario yet again Friday with the Bridge 99 Fire.

The Eyerly Fire burned more than 23,000 acres and destroyed 18 of the neighborhood's homes in its path.

Since then, residents and officials have prepared to prevent that from happening again.

"It's a nerve-wracking situation when a fire comes in," Rim Park resident George Sanborn said Friday.

"It was scary," Sue Leibelt said. "Of course, my first thought was, 'I don't want to lose everything that we've got.'"

It might have been 12 years ago, but it feels like deja' vu for Three Rivers-area residents.

"Well, here we are in a similar situation, and fire season does come around every year," Jack Prukop said.

Smoke around the area sits, blocking the view of Central Oregon landmarks. The smoke is also serving as a reminder to be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice.

"The (Eyerly) fire was frightening and a real eye-opener to us, so we've since then done quite a bit really to prepare ourselves in the event of another threatening fire," Leibelt said.

Preparation is a common theme with these residents.

"The emphasis change during the fire season and the summer season, and people began to take it a lot more seriously," Prukop said. "The fire was actually unexpected."

Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins said officials have learned from past mistakes and are making sure residents know the potential severity of the situation.

"You just learn to be a little more on your toes, and learn how to deal with people and give them advanced notice and keep people informed," Adkins said.

It's a policy neighbors like Sanborn have adopted over the years.

"We're a tight-knit neighborhood, and we let each other know what's going, on so they can be ready to take the necessary steps to evacuate," Sanborn said.

The Three Rivers and several subdivisions nearby are currently on a Level 2 evacuation notice, which means be packed and ready to go at a moment's notice. The Red Cross has a shelter on stand-by at Culver High School if the fire continues to grow in that direction.

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