Reward shoots up in Two Bulls Fire
Deschutes County sheriff: fires ‘potential arson’

Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton on Wednesday called the Two Bulls Fire and another smaller blaze Tuesday potential arson, and the reward in the bigger fire increased by $22,000 in less than a day.

“The fires are suspicious in nature and the ongoing investigation indicates suspicion of potential arson,” Blanton said in a news release.

By late Wednesday afternoon, the reward for information leading to a conviction had grown from $4,500 on Tuesday to $26,500, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Contributors to the fund include Deschutes County, the Sheriff’s Office, landowners near the fire and local companies.

“I think people want the person or persons responsible for this fire held accountable,” said Capt. Shane Nelson of the Sheriff’s Office.

The city of Bend also put up $5,000 as part of the reward.

“The consequences from these fires could have been catastrophic for the city,” City Manager Eric King said in a news release. “It’s important that we find the cause and who’s responsible for starting these fires and a reward contribution from the city is the responsible thing to do.”

While the reward fund for the fire keeps growing, the Two Bulls Fire isn’t. The fire remained Wednesday night at 6,900 acres — nearly 11 square miles — and was 55 percent contained. It was 40 percent contained Wednesday morning. Fighting the fire has cost more than $4.3 million.

The Sheriff’s Office planned to end evacuation warnings in west Bend at 8 a.m. today and reduce the level of the evacuation warning for 50 homes along Skyliners Road. Residents there were allowed to return to their homes late Tuesday, but the road is closed to nonresidents past the turnoff to Phil’s Trailhead.

Along with returning to pulling water from Bridge Creek, the city on Wednesday announced that construction of a new water pipeline along Skyliners Road would restart Monday. Construction crews halted their work during the blaze. From Saturday night until Wednesday morning, the city relied on groundwater from wells rather than the Bridge Creek watershed, which is about five miles from the Two Bulls Fire.

Oregon State Police is leading the investigation into the cause of the Two Bulls Fire and didn’t have any new information Wednesday to make public, said OSP Lt. Gregg Hastings. He said investigators haven’t told him what made them conclude the fire was human-caused.

“They haven’t shared with me what that is or if they want that released,” he said.

The blaze west of Bend started as two separate fires Saturday that eventually burned together and were spotted just before 1 p.m. The fire mostly burned private land owned by Cascade Timberlands, a timber-holding company with an office in Bend.

Tuesday’s fire started around 11:40 a.m. Two helicopters fighting the Two Bulls Fire quickly snuffed the quarter-acre fire spotted south of Skyliners Road and 1½ miles west of Phil’s Trailhead. The fire started on Deschutes National Forest land that was closed to the public at the time due to the Two Bulls Fire. The forest planned to shrink the closure area at midnight Wednesday. Along with some forest roads west of Bend, the closure covers the Mrazek, Tumalo Creek and Farewell trails.

Fighting the Two Bulls Fire is starting to wind down. The number of firefighters assigned to the blaze was reduced Wednesday, said Brian Ballou, a spokesman with the Oregon Department of Forestry. The crew dropped from more than 1,100 firefighters Tuesday to 925 Wednesday.

“We sent a few people home,” he said. And more should be joining them soon.

As of Wednesday evening there were still six helicopters, 46 engines, 11 bulldozers and 15 water tenders on the Two Bulls Fire, Ballou said. While firefighters contended with heat and wind early in the week, the weather today should be milder.

“It is going to get a little cooler, but breezier again,” he said.

Highs today should be in the low 70s, Ballou said.

“I don’t think there is a lot of concern about the forecast,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com

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