Firefighters strengthened lines around the Two Bulls Fire on Tuesday, and the last of the fire’s evacuees were allowed to go back to their homes.
The Deschutes Sheriff’s Office announced Tuesday night that it lifted the evacuation order for 50 homes along Skyliners Road west of Bend. The order had been in place since Saturday night, when the wildfire threatened to spread into the woods surrounding the homes.
The neighborhood is open only to residents because another evacuation may be necessary if the fire jumps its lines.
Skyliners Road is still busy with fire equipment, and it’s the fastest way out if there’s another evacuation, said Capt. Shane Nelson of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.
“We don’t want any sightseers or any excessive, unnecessary traffic,” he said.
Despite dry and windy conditions Tuesday afternoon, the Two Bulls Fire didn’t grow for the second day in a row, according to the team managing the fire.
The fire, first spotted Saturday afternoon, has burned 6,900 acres or nearly 11 square miles. As of Tuesday night, it was 40 percent contained.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning, an advisory that weather was conducive for fire for much of Tuesday afternoon. Temperatures hit a high of 72 with humidity around 24 percent and wind gusts up to 25 miles per hour near the fire, said George Perry, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Pendleton.
Today should be warmer, and there will be wind, Perry said, “but it doesn’t look like it is going to be as strong as it was (Tuesday).”
Weather forecasters plan to assess conditions this morning and then decide whether to issue a new red flag warning.
“If the winds are lighter, I suspect it might not be an issue,” Perry said.
As the fight to contain the Two Bull Fire continues, so does the investigation into the cause of the blaze. The fire started as two separate fires which burned into one.
“The fire is suspicious, and a multiagency investigation team determined it is human-caused,” Nelson said.
There’s a $4,500 reward for any information leading to the conviction of the people responsible for the fire. The increase in reward money came Tuesday when Taylor Northwest, a Bend-based heavy construction contractor, added $2,500 to the $2,000 offered by Cascade Timberlands. The timber company with an office in Bend owns the bulk of the land burned by the blaze.
The Oregon State Police is leading the investigation, which also includes officials from the Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Forest Service, the Walker Range Fire Protection Association and Oregon Department of Forestry. Lt. Gregg Hastings of the Oregon State Police said Tuesday evening that there was no new information to release about the investigation.
More than 1,000 firefighters, six helicopters, 77 engines and 11 bulldozers have been fighting the Two Bulls Fire, according to the team managing the effort. So far fighting the blaze has cost $3 million.
Of the 6,900 acres, more than 6,100 is owned by the Cascade Timberlands, said Link Smith, a deputy incident commander for the Oregon Department of Forestry.
He said timber isn’t insurable, and while there may be some salvage on the land, much of the investment is likely lost.
“A lot of money went up in smoke,” Smith said.
A quick response Tuesday likely prevented another damaging fire, this time on public land west of Bend.
Fire crews pounced on a new blaze late Tuesday morning on Deschutes National Forest land still subject to closure due to the Two Bulls Fire .
“They were able to divert a couple of helicopters from the Two Bulls Fire and they squashed it basically,” said Patrick Lair, a spokesman for the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center.
They kept the new fire, which was spotted around 11:40 a.m. from the Lava Butte Lookout, to about a quarter of an acre. The fire was south of Skyliners Road and about 1½ miles from Phil’s Trailhead.
While fire crews may soon have the Two Bulls Fire contained, it probably will smolder and put off smoke through the summer, said Bill Queen, a spokesman for the fire management team.
“They’ll be dealing with this until the fall until rain or snow puts the fire out,” he said.
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