By Scott Hammers

The Bulletin

A pair of brush fires near Tumalo Reservoir grew to an estimated 300 acres by sunset Saturday, sending up large plumes of smoke that filled the skies west of Bend by nightfall and forcing the evacuation of residents living along Johnson and Skyliner roads.

A Level 2 pre-evacuation warning was issued about 9:30 p.m. Saturday for residents in the area south of Shevlin Park Road, west of Mt. Washington Drive, and north of Cascade Lakes Highway. That means those residents should be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. Residents in the remainder of Northwest Crossing (east of Mt. Washington Drive), and the area that includes residents north of Shevlin Park and west of Mt. Washington Drive, were given a Level 1 notice, meaning that it’s possible they would have to evacuate also.

Residents of the Saddleback neighborhood near Shevlin Park were issued evacuation orders by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office at around 4 p.m. Saturday, followed by evacuation orders for those living along Skyliners Road at around 6 p.m.

The Red Cross established a temporary shelter for evacuees at Cascade Middle School in Bend, then moved it to High Desert Middle school because it’s in an area that potentially could be evacuated.

In a news release issued announcing the evacuations along Skyliners Road, the sheriff’s office reported the Two Bulls Fire was active and moving to the south and southwest.

Stronger winds are expected in the area starting Monday, making today a crucial day in the effort to contain the fire, said Lisa Clark, a public information officer with the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center center.

Capt. Shane Nelson with the sheriff’s office said approximately 150 homes in Saddleback had been evacuated, and another 40 along Skyliners Road west of the Bend city limits. Pre-evacuation notices were being considered for additional neighborhoods, he said.

The interagency dispatch center was providing no estimate of containment on the fire as of Saturday evening.

Clark said the fires are believed to be human caused and are under investigation. She said 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.

The fire is burning in a mix of Deschutes National Forest and private lands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry, she said.

As of 9 p.m., three hand crews were on the fire, including Hotshots from Redmond and Prineville, along with three air tankers, two helicopters, 13 engines, seven bulldozers and two water tenders. Clark said another 10 hand crews were expected to arrive in Central Oregon shortly.

Saturday was the first live fire for the newly outfitted MD-87 air tankers based at Erickson Aero Tanker’s Madras base, Clark said. Erickson provided one of its new tankers, she said, along with older tankers from Boise and Redding, Calif.

The Dirty Half half-marathon, scheduled for today in the Phil’s Trail area west of Bend, was canceled Saturday evening due to its proximity to the fire. The road to Phil’s Trail, Skyliners Road, and Forest Service roads 4606, 4603 and 1610 were closed to all non-fire personnel late Saturday.

Joan Steelhammer with Equine Outreach said several residents of the Saddleback neighborhood own horses and were struggling to find places to move them. She said she and others involved in the local horse scene were busy Saturday evening locating trailers and available pastures for the affected animals.

The Sheriff’s Office opened a large animal shelter at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center for evacuated residents’ livestock.

Kern said crews were expecting to remain on the fire overnight Saturday, with an Oregon Department of Forestry Type II incident command team expected to arrive and assume command of firefighting efforts today.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387,