Due to fire evacuation warnings, classes are canceled today at:
• William E. Miller Elementary School
• Cascade Middle School
• Summit High School
Fire investigators announced Monday that the Two Bulls Fire was human-caused, and the timber-holding company whose land has been blackened by the blaze is offering a reward for information that leads to a conviction in the case.
Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton told a crowd of about 150 people at a public meeting Monday night at Bend High School that it is unclear if the fire, which started as two separate fires Saturday and burned into one Sunday, was accidental or not.
“It’s too early to say arson,” he said.
Cascade Timberlands has put up a $2,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction connected to the fire. The fire investigation team is looking to talk with anyone who may have information about activity, individuals or vehicles seen on Cascade Timberlands forestland west of Tumalo Reservoir in the days leading up to the fire. The company owns the land where the fires started.
Officials from the Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Forest Service, the Walker Range Fire Protection Association and Oregon Department of Forestry are all part of the investigation team.
Blanton was one of 18 speakers who offered updates on and reaction to the Two Bulls Fire at the Monday evening meeting at Bend High. The crowd included people who live along Skyliners Road and remain under evacuation order. The Sheriff’s Office order covers about 50 homes.
Susan Mondry, 59, said she’s lived in the wooded neighborhood near the Skyliners Sno-park for 20 years, and this is the first time she’s had to evacuate. She said she’s been staying in her daughter’s spare bedroom in town since Saturday, when the fast-moving fire prompted the call for evacuation.
While anxious to return home, Mondry said she understands why she and her neighbors have to stay away from their homes until firefighters have a better handle on the blaze.
“We have pretty much one way to get out,” she said. “...You are not going to get out of there fast.”
For the first time since the Two Bulls Fire started Saturday, firefighters called the wildfire burning just a couple of miles outside Bend partially contained.
Burning through a mix of brush and heavy timber west of town, the fire has burned about 6,800 acres — more than 10.5 square miles — and was 25 percent contained, the state team managing fire said late Monday. The fire’s proximity to town kept evacuation orders up Monday for homes on and around Skyliners Road and evacuation warnings for an additional 3,000 homes. The fire is 2 miles west of the outskirts of Bend, a mile from Skyliners Road and about 5 miles from the city’s watershed.
“We have lots of resources because we are the only big fire (currently) in Oregon,” said Tina O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Forestry.
An army of firefighters worked through hot, dusty conditions Monday, continuing their effort to encircle the blaze with a fireline. More than 800 firefighters were assigned to the fire. The fight also included 11 helicopters, 48 engines and 11 bulldozers. So far the firefighting effort has cost about $2.2 million.
No buildings had been lost and only one firefighter had suffered an injury, a minor cut on the leg, state officials said Monday evening.
The big concern for firefighters Monday was wind. Northwest winds of 10 to 18 miles per hour, with gusts up to 25 mph, pushed the fire back toward town, but also back toward firelines etched by fire crews with bulldozers, chainsaws and hand tools.
“It will be a test,” said Bill Queen, spokesman for the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center shortly after 10 a.m. Monday at a fire camp along Johnson Road. As of 5 p.m. he said it was a test they passed. But more, possibly stronger, winds are expected for today.
“(Today) could be an even bigger test,” Queen said. “...We still have a lot of work to do, but as of this point I think we are continuing to gain ground.”
Due to the fire’s proximity to the Bridge Creek watershed, the city of Bend remains reliant on groundwater, said Bend City Manager Eric King at the Monday evening meeting. He said the city intends to return to drawing surface water in the next couple of days, but in the meantime city residents should watch their water use.
“We ask the community to help us out to conserve water,” he said.
The American Red Cross put the emergency shelter at High Desert Middle School on standby Monday, said Lisa Stroup, executive director for the group in Bend. The shelter is still fully equipped, she said, but not staffed.
“We know we can have it open (again) in 20 minutes,” she said.
While people offered to donate bedding, clothes and dishes for evacuees, Stroup said the Red Cross can’t accept those donations, but can accept money.
“We don’t really have any staff to sift through donations,” she said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7812, email@example.com