La Pine crews fight 3 fires, propane leak in bitter cold

La PINE, Ore. - La Pine has been bearing the brunt of some of the region's coldest temperatures in the latest cold snap -- and its firefighters were out again Monday morning on their third structure fire in sub-zero readings.

Temperatures were at -17 when crews responded to the blaze at 53234 Riverview Drive, where residents noticed smoke coming from a small storage building, said Fire Chief Mike Supkis.

Firefighters were able to enter and quickly knock down the blaze, limiting damage to mostly smoke and a broken window.

Fire Capt. Gary Yong said an investigation found that a hard-wired, wall-mounted heater apparently caught on fire, then spread up the wall and to nearby combustibles. There were no injuries.

In the first call-out on Saturday night, two engines, a water tender, a medic unit and several support units responded around 7:15 p.m. to a reported structure fire at 15886 Woodland Drive, Supkis said.

They arrived to find an attached garage fully ablaze, with flames extending to a single-story mobile home, Supkis said, adding that the residents had evacuated safely before firefighters arrived – in temperatures of -11 and dropping.

The mobile home was a total loss, but firefighters were able to save a large shop and RV just a few feet away, the fire chief said. Crews returned several times through the night to put out hot spots as temperatures kept falling.

The cause of the fire has not been determined, but Supkis said it's suspected it began in the garage, which had considerable storage, then extended into the home through a common window.

After a very busy night, firefighters responded around 4:50 a.m. Sunday to another structure fire at 16040 Alpine Drive.

Crews arrived to find an attached shed ablaze, under a common roof to a mobile home. Supkis said those occupants also safely evacuated, and firefighters working in temperatures that dropped to -29 were able to contain the blaze to the shed, with no damage to the mobile home.

The cause of that blaze was traced to storage next to a wall heater, the fire chief said.

Young said water on the engines are recirculated through pumps, which "keeps the water flowing fast enough, it doesn't allow it to freeze." One rig also has an "under-belly heater," that reroutes exhaust through a pan under the pump to keep it from freezing.

Young's 48-hour shift began after the overnight blazes, but he said the cold "was a big challenge for them."

"Typically, you spray water on the fire and the water turns to steam. A lot of that takes the heat out of the fire," Young said.

But in such extreme cold, "all the off-spray just froze, so they had to aim it directly at the base of the fire – a couple bursts, then hit it from every angle" to douse the flames."

"Crew fatigue is huge," he said. "Any time you have extremely hot or cold conditions, you dehydrate way faster. You think of dehydration when it's hot, but in the cold also, and it's incredibly dry." Add in any cold-related frostbite issues, and Young said, "It takes quite a bit more effort to get the job done.

During the blazes, Supkis said, firefighters also responded to two medical calls, with the assistance of Sunriver Fire, and a broken water pipe at the Deschutes Road House restaurant on Spring River Road.

Propane leak forces Gordy's Truck Stop evacuation

Later Sunday morning, crews responded to a reported leak from a 1,000-gallon propane tank at Gordy's Truck Stop Restaurant off Highway 97 in La Pine, prompting evacuations and cordoning off the area.

"One of the valves, the main valve that comes out underneath the tank was leaking," Young said, characterizing it as a "small to moderate leak, 60 to 80 drops a minute."

A gas monitor took readings and "we were getting pretty high levels of explosive gases, even 200 feet away from the tank," Young said.

That led to evacuation of the restaurant and store, and "we got as many semis out as we could, cordoned off the area," the fire captain said.

Northern Energy sent a repair technician to the scene who shut the valve off to stop the leak, Young said. The tech said it was his second call Sunday morning and that "in his entire career, he'd never seen one leak," the fire captain said, adding that it's likely due to the severe cold.

By midday, Young learned they were going to burn the propane off to empty it and make repairs to the valve. He also noted that while most people left when the restaurant and store were closed, some semis that were parked overnight were still there because their diesel gelled on them.

The fire station's own diesel tanks also froze up Sunday morning, Young said, so they couldn't refuel the fire engines for a time, until it was flowing again as temperatures warmed some.

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