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Homeowners credit luck, fast work.

Byline: Rebecca Taylor The Register-Guard

Homeowners who fought off a fast-moving west Eugene grass fire over the weekend used one word in common on Monday when describing the experience: lucky.

Whipped along by 30 mph winds, the fire quickly devoured 100 acres of pasture in a neighborhood off Clear Lake Road on Saturday but stopped short of damaging houses or killing livestock.

Fire marshals were still investigating the cause of the fire that prompted the Lane County Sheriff's Office to evacuate the Fern Ridge neighborhood near Eaton and Spires lanes.

On Monday, residents marveled at their good fortune.

"It was just really lucky how it all happened," said Guy McBride, an Eaton Lane resident whose pasture burned in the blaze. "It makes me realize that with the wind blowing, it only takes a spark."

McBride spoke as he stacked hay bales he bought after his own pasture burned up. A fire extinguisher lay nearby, just in case.

The building contractor said the blaze started in a neighbor's yard and spread to his property in a matter of seconds. His three adult sons happened to be visiting at the time. They were able to protect the family home and help neighbors to the south who had just completed construction on their house.

If the wind had changed direction, if the grass had been taller, if his sons had not been present, things could have turned out differently, he said.

Residents also credited the fast work of neighbors with saving their property.

Kathy Nichols said neighbors manned garden hoses and helped beat back the flames encroaching on her Spires Lane property. She said seeing the fire come toward her home was "absolutely terrifying."

"I really thought we would all lose our houses," she said surveying the blackened field behind her house. "We just feel really fortunate. We have a great group of neighbors and a couple of them had firefighting experience so they knew what to do."

In the end, only a pump house and a shed burned, Lane Rural Fire and Rescue Division Chief Jim Drew said, thanks to more than 100 firefighters from at least 14 agencies who helped battle the flames. Officers from at least three police agencies managed traffic in the area.

Drew's crew returned to the area early Sunday when the fire rekindled in a field off Spires Lane that is home to some endangered butterflies. They were called out again about 11 a.m. that day to put out spot fires.

"This is the biggest fire we've had in years," Drew said.

He said low humidity, high temperatures, gusty winds and the fencing that divides up the terrain all posed challenges for fire crews. The same conditions are expected to continue for most of this week.

Fire prevention officials praised the Fern Ridge homeowners for maintaining defensible space around their homes.

"Many homeowners had created a 30- to 100-foot zone of defensible space around their houses - what we call a `lean, green and clean space' - free of flammable debris such as dry leaves and branches," said Carrie<302>Ann Capp of the Oregon Department of Forestry's South Cascades District.

Others had fire-resistant roofing material and kept roofs and rain gutters free of leaves and other debris, she said.

The experience opened McBride's eyes to the reality of fire danger.

"I just hope people really realize it would take nothing with this hot wind," he said. "I now realize how fast it could happen, and how I could have started one many times."
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Title Annotation:Fires; Armed with garden hoses, a group of residents deter a roaring blaze
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 11, 2007
Words:586
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