The Two Bulls Fire continued to burn two miles west of Bend Sunday, affecting 6,180 acres of private and public lands by sundown. No portion of the fire was contained Sunday evening.
Around 350 crew members focused Sunday on establishing what authorities described as a “preliminary line” down the east side and southern edge of the fire, an attempt to prevent the fire from moving closer toward the city. According to Lisa Clark, spokeswoman for the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville, crews planned to continue working on the line overnight. Clark noted wind had been “tame” Sunday, but forecasts predicted stronger winds today and Tuesday, which could pose a challenge for holding the line.
“So far it’s looking good at the containment line, where the goal is to take it down to mineral soil, as the fire can even creep across roots,” Clark said. “The idea is to make the line wide enough so that a tree falling down wouldn’t cross it.”
Despite progress throughout the day, Clark said the line will continue to be called preliminary.
“Because it’s so close to the west side of Bend, we don’t want to say there’s containment and have people think everything’s good,” she said. “There’s still the risk we could get wind or heavy fire activity and push across the line.”
The fire sparked evacuations originally affecting about 200 homes west of the city, though that number was cut to 40 when residents from the Saddleback subdivision were allowed to return home Sunday evening.
Nonetheless, that area was still on a Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Level II notice Sunday evening, meaning residents are asked to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Also on Level II are residents south of Shevlin Park Road, west of Mt. Washington Drive and north of Century Drive. A Level I notice, which asks people to prepare and be ready to evacuate, was issued for residents in the rest of NorthWest Crossing, as well as the area north of Shevlin Park and west of Mt. Washington Drive.
Forty homes on Skyliners Road outside of the city were still on a Level III evacuation notice, which calls for residents to evacuate immediately.
Additionally, Bend-La Pine Schools canceled classes at three schools in areas under Level II notice — Miller Elementary, Cascade Middle and Summit High schools. The district may also move recess for other schools indoors depending on air quality. Teachers at those schools are on a delay schedule, communications director Julianne Repman said, and should report when and if they can.
Fire activity caused park and road closures west of the city. The Bend Park & Recreation District said any use of parks or trails in the areas on pre-evacuation notice is discouraged. The city also shut off surface water on Saturday and will exclusively use groundwater wells until the fire’s impact on the Bridge Creek watershed can be assessed.
Despite the evacuation notices, foot traffic was typical along NorthWest Crossing’s commercial strip, an area under Level I notice.
“It was surprisingly pretty normal around here,” said Madelyn Payne 20, an employee at Little Bite Cafe. “I was really shocked. When I got here, the smoke was low and I saw people biking up and down. One person came in on the way to her daughter’s softball game.”
The store’s owner, Melissa Albright, 47, said she lived in an area on Level II alert, but decided to stay put unless an immediately adjacent neighborhood was ordered to evacuate. At Sunny Kitchen Yoga, owner Amy Wright, 38, said food customers had been slow for the day, but her yoga class had been busier than average.
For Kay Ogden, who had just moved into the neighborhood from Grants Pass, the fire was more of the same.
“When we moved from Grants Pass in August, it was during a big fire there,” said Ogden, 62. “I guess we left in the fire and are now coming in the fire. But it was solid smoke there, it’s not so bad here.”
For those forced to evacuate, however, Sunday was less than typical.
“I had to deal with a house fire before, so this brought up old, traumatic feelings,” said Darragh Hildreth, 23, who lives in Saddleback. “I had to leave the floor at work for five minutes to calm down after I was told about it. When I got home, you could see the orange and red hue just out in the distance.”
To assist evacuees, the American Red Cross Cascades Region operated a shelter at High Desert Middle School. In the afternoon, shelter manager Emily Wegener said not many people had come by.
“It’s been fairly quiet, with some people dropping in to get snacks and drinks,” she said. “We have four people in motor homes, but no one spent the night on Saturday. The plan for right now is to stay open through the night and tomorrow. We’ll know more on (this) afternoon.”
On Saturday, Clark said the fires are believed to be human-caused, while noting two fires starting in the same area does not necessarily point to deliberate action — a few years ago, the driver of a vehicle dragging a chain on U.S. Highway 20 accidentally sparked five separate blazes between Bend and Burns.
Spotters at the Black Butte fire lookout saw two smoke plumes at around 12:48 p.m., according to Kassidy Kern, also a public information officer for the interagency dispatch center. The fires were close together and merging, Kern said, and have been treated as a single incident since midday Saturday.
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, email@example.com