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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, May 04, 2013 11:02 pm

Winds topple trees, spark fires in Central Oregon

By JONATHAN J. COOPERAssociated Press

Winds gusting to 40 mph wreaked havoc on parts of Central Oregon Saturday, toppling trees that blocked roads and downing power lines that sparked at least two small wildfires and forced two dozen people to evacuate their homes.

The fires were small, estimated at 10 acres and 100 acres respectively - a small fraction of a square mile. But strong winds and warm temperatures made them tough to fight.

Twenty-four people were evacuated when flames got too close to the Crescent Creek subdivision near La Pine. Residents of another nearby subdivision were told to prepare their belongs and pets and be ready to evacuate if the order is given, authorities said.

The Red Cross set up an evacuation shelter.

Fire crews were able to make progress containing the fires as winds died down Saturday evening, said Lisa Clark of the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center. The larger fire was about 80 percent contained, she said. Power-company workers were heading to the smaller fire to clear downed lines so fire crews could safely finish a containment line.

One blaze burned close to an elementary school in La Pine, but school property was not damaged, said Lt. Chad Davis of the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office. The fires hadn't burned any structures, he said.

No injuries were reported, but the authorities advised people to stay indoors until the winds subsided and crews could clean up roadways. Davis said the sheriff's office received several reports of transformers exploding and trees catching fire.

The gusty winds and unusually warm weather brought an early start to fire season in the Pacific Northwest.

Firefighters contained a third small fire about four miles south of Redmond. Crews were still investigating the cause. Authorities in Washington said a small, 10-acre blaze was creating a large amount of smoke in a remote, mountainous area between Portland and Seattle.

Fire experts warned last week that a dry winter and expected warming trend mean the potential for significant fire activity will be above normal on the West Coast, in the Southwest and portions of Idaho and Montana.

KTVZ-TV in Bend reported that garage sales, baseball games and other weekend events were under way on an otherwise-nice Saturday, but the winds made it challenging to hold things in place.