A Forest Service closure area around the blaze also is being scaled back, allowing many (but not all) roads and trails to reopen.

The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office announced that the Skyliners Road area west of Bend will be reduced to a Level 1 evacuation notice, the lowest level, which means that residents only must take precautions, not be ready to leave at a moment's notice.

Meanwhile, the Level 1 evacuation notice is being lifted, also at 8 a.m. Thursday, for the Saddleback subdivision and other areas, totaling 2,000 homes, that were imposed after the fire broke out over the weekend.

Capt. Shane Nelson said sheriff's deputies are patrolling the area, and will continue to do so through the weekend, along with U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement patrols.

Also, the Deschutes National Forest Bend-Ft Rock Ranger District is reducing the area closure in place since Sunday, as of midnight Wednesday.

Forest Service roads that surround the reduced closure include 4601 north of the junction with 4603, 4602 north of the junction with 4601 and 4606 north of the junction with 4601 and south of the junction with 4608.

That means three trails -- Mrazek, Tumalo Creek and Farewell -- will remain closed.

Firefighters spent a "chilly but productive" night working on the Two Bulls Fire, said Mike Carlson, the night operations supervisor, Wednesday morning. Overnight temperature plummeted into the 30s while crews hunted down and extinguished smokes and embers 100-300 feet inside the fire line.

The two blazes that merged to become the Two Bulls Fire broke out midday Saturday near Tumalo, 10 miles northwest of Bend. By early Sunday, the fire had burned more than 6,000 acres of private mostly forestland and federal lands on the Deschutes National Forest. It's grown by less than 1,000 acres since that time, due to a major firefighting effort.

On Tuesday, a fire that was hit hard and caught a 1/4 acre suddenly appeared outside of the Two Bulls Fire's fire line and south of Skyliners Road.Helicopters and engines from the Two Bulls Fire quickly attacked the blaze and brought it under control.

Authorities later deemed that fire suspicious -- just like the Two Bulls blazes -- and boosted the reward fund to a total of $14,500, nearly doubling by late Thursday to $26,500.

No structures have been lost or damaged in the 5-day-old blaze.

After meeting with fire officials Tuesday evening, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office lowered the Skyliners Road evacuation notice from Level 3, urging all residents to leave, to Level 2, which means they should still be ready to go at a moment’s notice. As a result, deputies said they still will only allow residents into the area, and urge caution for returning homeowners, as there is still only one main exit out of the area.

Earlier Tuesday, the sheriff’s office lowered the Level 2 evacuation advisory for a wide swath of Bend’s western outskirts to Level 1, meaning only that residents should take precautions but likely don’t face a call to leave quickly. \

As a result, three schools that were closed for two days – Miller Elementary, Cascade Middle School and Summit High – will reopen Wednesday, officials said – just in time for finals for many students and the last days of school for all.

The National Weather Service issued a “red flag warning” for 2 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, meaning “critical fire weather” across Central Oregon. But fire crews knew they were coming and were able to get lines in place to handle the buffeting.

Fire managers credited “aggressive mop-up operations” on the eastern and southern portions of the fire” for the ability to hold the lines during the late afternoon and evening pickup in winds.

With all the progress, one of the three structure protection task forces mobilized under the state Emergency Conflagration Act has been sent home, “and the need for the remaining task forces will be evaluated.”


Earlier story:

With information ever-changing throughout the day, Two Bulls Fire officials held a public meeting at Bend High Monday evening to give an update and answer questions about the fire's status, giving a cautiously optimistic outlook.

About 200 attendees learned that even though this fire occurred before the season officially started, it might have been at the right time, so to speak.

With no other fire of this magnitude happening in the nation, all resources have been sent to the High Desert, which has helped with containment.

"By no means are we out of the woods yet, but we're making tremendous progress," said Tom Fields, Oregon Department of Forestry public information officer.

It’s progress that has many fire officials feeling optimistic about the outlook for this fire in coming days.

However, much work still remains to be done.

Fire behavior analyst Jeff Bell said the region's forest fuels are at 12 percent moisture, a situation we'd normally be seeing in August.

"One of the reasons it made a big push through there is because fuels are extremely dry, historic for this time of year," Bell said.