By Dylan J. Darling

The Bulletin

An exhaust system failure in a passing motorhome sparked a string of small fires Tuesday afternoon along U.S. Highway 97 at the south end of Bend.

The fires were reported just after 4:30 p.m. near the Baker Road overpass, according to Deschutes County Sheriff’s Sgt. Aaron Harding.

The fires burned along the east shoulder of Highway 97, prompting the closure of both northbound highway lanes, as well as the Baker Road overpass, and causing a detour of traffic for two hours.

The motorhome was found on the highway near the fires, and the driver fully cooperated with investigators, according to Harding.

Burning material from the exhaust was blown to the highway shoulder, starting the fires.

No charges have been filed against the driver.

Neighbors who gathered near the corner of Parrell and China Hat roads said a woman pulled the motorhome she was driving off the highway and parked it there.

She got out and told them she was having brake issues but didn’t have anything to do with the fires.

As firefighters continued to squelch hot spots, investigators swarmed the Pace Arrow, crawling under the motorhome after a tow truck lifted its front.

The motorhome had Oregon plates and an adult tricycle on the back.

The driver of the motorhome and a man who came to pick her up, who said he was the owner of the motorhome, declined to comment.

Along with snarling traffic, the fires put up a plume of smoke visible from many parts of Bend and south of town on the highway and put a scare into people living in homes near the vacant land burned by the blazes.

A crowd of neighbors gathered near the motorhome and people exchanged tales of the close call.

“I’ve lived here eight years, and I always worried about this catching on fire,” said Erinn Ross, 45, as she pointed to the vacant land covered in dry grass and the occasional pine tree.

New to the neighborhood and having moved to town a month ago from San Jose, California, Anita Blatner, 53, said she was glad fire crews responded quickly.

“I’m just glad they got (the fires) out,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. A previous version of the article misspelled Parrell Road. The Bulletin regrets the error.