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300 work to safeguard Sisters.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard


SISTERS - Firefighters on Friday gained footing on a 2,700-acre wildland fire southwest of this tourist town, containing a small part of a nearly week-old blaze that was one of the top priorities among wildfires nationwide.

The Black Crater Fire was about five miles from Sisters and its 2,100 residents Friday evening, but firefighters controlled about 5 percent of the blaze along its eastern edge, closest to town and outlying communities.

The fire gained only 16 acres Friday and showed "very little advancement" toward Sisters, said Peter Frenzen of the Northwest Oregon Interagency Team. It was a half-mile west of the evacuation point for the 1,000 residents of the Tollgate community, and 1.5 miles west of the spot that could trigger the evacuation of Sisters.

Firefighters hoped a second dose of cool temperatures Friday night would again suffocate the fire so they can expand a buffer line this morning before afternoon winds force them to concentrate on hot spots sparked by wind-blown embers.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski will take an aerial tour of the fire today with the Oregon National Guard.

The fire is the second of the season that warranted special action by the governor, who summoned local and state firefighting agencies into action. Earlier this week, the governor called for statewide efforts to battle a fire in Eastern Oregon, protecting all the structures threatened by a growing wildfire near Halfway.

Three hundred firefighters from throughout the West - including 16 from Lane County - fought the Black Crater fire Friday or were protecting structures.

Frenzen rejected the notion that there should have been a heavier commitment of personnel earlier in the week to battle the fire before it grew.

"There is a period of time when a fire breaks out when it's just the local districts are responding," he said. `You can always say, `Yes, you can put more on that fire,' but there are other fires in other communities dealing with what we're dealing with now.'

Many in Tollgate, a tidy community of 1,000 tucked into tall pine to the northwest of Sisters, left voluntarily by Friday afternoon. That followed earlier mandatory evacuations of 500 from Crossroads and Edgington.

Forty-year-old Darlene Arruda and her family stayed in Tollgate but were prepared to evacuate at a moment's notice.

"Yesterday we were pretty emotional about it all," she said, as her husband packed a truck that included cherished heirloom furniture. "If it goes up, it goes up - there's nothing you can do about it."

The fire, triggered by lightning last Sunday, was one of the top priorities among the 400 or so wildfires nationwide because it threatened homes, forced evacuations and confounded firefighting efforts by "spotting" - that is, embers carried by 20 mph winds landed among trees and other fuels beyond fire-protection lines, starting spot fires.

"The winds are making it difficult," said firefighter Tyler Hersom, 22, of Jacksonville as he shoveled dirt on a burning branch in the heart of the fire area. "You get one thing contained and you turn around and it's right behind you."

But there have been no reports of injuries to firefighters or the public, said Frenzen, the fire official.

In the evacuated Crossroads community west of Sisters, the only life to be found was a deer at rest in a home's side yard.

Betty Hoffmann, 84, had retreated to the American Red Cross shelter at Sisters High School - her first evacuation in 25 years living in the area, she said.

Hoffmann left behind her mobile home but said she wasn't overly concerned about the fire. "If you're going to live in the forest, you've got to expect it could happen," she said.

Elsewhere, firefighters raced to beat high winds predicted for today that could drive a wildfire near the Oregon border into the major transmission lines that carry power between California and the Pacific Northwest.

The fire, around 70 miles northwest of Redding in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, is burning between three transmission lines located about 1 1/2 miles apart. The fire is paralleling the lines, which together carry about 4,200 megawatts of Bonneville Power Administration electricity to California.

The fire was a quarter-mile from the nearest power line, but firefighters feared winds predicted to gust to 30 mph beginning today could drive the fire out of control.
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Title Annotation:Environment; Firefighters control the eastern edge of a wildfire burning close to town and slow its advance; officials hope to capitalize on cooler temperatures
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 29, 2006
Previous Article:BRIEFLY.

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