A group of partygoers shooting at exploding targets on private property Saturday are thought to be responsible for starting the Ana Fire, which has burned 6,200 acres in the Summer Lake area.
Lake County District Attorney Sharon Forster said she may bring criminal charges but could also refer the case to federal officials. If charged, the group could be on the hook for millions of dollars in restitution for causing a fire that destroyed federal forest lands, a hunting cabin, a small building and a barn, she said.
“There is always that possibility,” Forster said Thursday. “It’s like anything else when you cause damage to something that belongs to someone else.”
Forster has not released the names of the partygoers or said how many were in the group. She continues to investigate the incident. The partygoers were visiting from the Eugene-Springfield area and having a party on private property just north of the Summer Lake Lodge. When they began shooting at exploding targets, they sparked the wildfire.
“What we do know, is what the source was,” Forster said. “And we do know who was out there.”
The Ana Fire was 75 percent contained Thursday, burning 6,200 acres of sagebrush, grass and timber west of the Ana Reservoir. More than 300 fire personnel continue to build a southern containment line across the Winter Rim between state Highway 31 and Forest Road 2901 to protect nearby homes and commercial timber land.
Residents in the Ana Estates and along Highway 31, 2 miles north of Forest Road 2901 and 2 miles south of the Summer Lake Lodge, are still being asked to prepare for possible evacuation.
Highway 31 is open with flaggers directing traffic through the area.
At the start of the fire Saturday, flames came within 70 yards of Rolon Williams’ home in Summer Lake.
Williams, 42, a transportation maintenance manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation, was spending his day off at Home Depot in Bend buying concrete, tile and siding for his house. As he left the home improvement store, Williams received a text message from his mother, who also lives in the Summer Lake area, informing him that the wildfire was within two miles of his house.
On his drive home, state transportation crews told him the fire was getting worse but burning away from his house. Williams felt relatively safe at home until about 10 p.m., when the wind shifted and the fire started barreling toward his property and neighboring homes.
“All you could see was a wall of flames,” Williams said Thursday. “You could actually walk around without a flashlight.”
Fortunately, Williams’ wife and 13-year-old daughter were out of town, so he focused on evacuating his wife’s uncle and parents who live next door. He then rode with an Oregon State Police trooper, staying up all night, to warn other neighbors and encourage them to evacuate.
About 10 to 15 locals left their homes Saturday night and stayed in open rooms at the Summer Lake Inn, Williams said.
Fire crews successfully dug a line to protect the homes in Summer Lake.
Williams’ house was saved, but 20-foot high flames did claim a small building just north of his house.
“It was coming fast and hitting the tall sagebrush,” Williams said.
For a moment Saturday night, Williams thought his whole property was going to be destroyed.
He will spend this weekend assessing the damage and clearing debris, all the while knowing it could have been much worse.
“It especially hits home when it’s your own property,” he said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, firstname.lastname@example.org