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Four fires burn around county.

Byline: BILL BISHOP The Register-Guard

Firefighters scrambled to halt two new fires Wednesday, including one east of Springfield that threatened several homes and caused a four-hour power outage for 2,200 Eugene Water & Electric Board customers.

Meanwhile, progress continued on two other fires - one on industrial timberland northeast of Florence and the Office Bridge Fire near Westfir, which has grown to 160 acres and is 40 percent contained.

While fire officials haven't determined a cause for any of the blazes, they formed an arson task force made up of investigators from the Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Forestry to look into several suspicious fires.

Two investigators are studying the source of a 15-acre fire reported at 12:35 p.m. Wednesday on a steep bank north of Camp Creek Road, said Paul Bell, district forester for the Eastern Lane District of the Department of Forestry. The fire burned near East of Eden Road and close to EWEB's Walterville power plant, Bell said.

Another investigator is assigned to a fire on private land about 1.5 miles south of Highway 58 near Harolds Road that was reported three hours later and grew to 2.4 acres, Bell said.

In both cases, helicopters and volunteer fire crews jumped on the calls and were able to stop the fires.

In the Camp Creek fire, Raylene Young had just returned from blackberry picking with her four children, ages 3 to 9, and was preparing lunch when she noticed smoke out of her kitchen window. Seconds later, she saw flames spreading on dry grass and igniting balls of fire in oily Scotch broom bushes.

She called 911, but had to hang up before she could answer many of the call-taker's questions. "I really didn't have much time. I had to get my kids out of there when I saw how fast the fire was coming toward us," Young said. "It was right in our back yard."

With the children and two cats in her van, Young drove down her lane to a neighbor's house and was surprised to see firefighters and two helicopters arriving so quickly. "I was thankful," she said.

Firefighters from McKenzie Fire & Rescue immediately attacked the fire while helicopters were summoned to ferry water from the nearby McKenzie River, and state crews arrived to help. The fire grew to an estimated 15 acres and threatened two or three hillside homes before crews stopped it, Bell said.

Fire burning near EWEB lines caused the outage, officials said.

About 50 firefighters remained late Wednesday to set hose lines around the perimeter, bulldoze a fire line and begin mopping up hot spots inside the line, Bell said.

While the fight on the Camp Creek fire was in full swing, officials got a call on the second fire and diverted helicopters to halt its spread, Bell said. The Dexter Rural Fire Department handled ground operations on the second blaze.

"We'll have people overnight on both of these," he said.

Meanwhile, crews began mopping up a 20-acre fire that spread Tuesday afternoon up a steep slope to a ridgetop near the Upper North Fork Siuslaw River Road about 15 miles northeast of Florence just south of the North Fork Siuslaw Campground.

The fire started on Davidson Industries timberland that was being cut, but the cause hasn't been determined, said Rick Rogers, district forester for the Western Lane District of the Oregon Department of Forestry.

"They caught it at the ridgetop and it laid down overnight," Rogers said. "We're glad it didn't get any bigger."

At the Office Bridge Fire, where the communities of Hemlock and Westfir remain under a three-hour evacuation notice, firefighters made good progress with fire lines on the western edge closest to threatened homes.

But the fire spread northeast along rugged rocky terrain where falling trees and rolling rocks created hazards for crews, fire information officer Peter Frenzen said.

A rock 18 inches in diameter bounced off a tree Tuesday and struck a firefighter who heard it coming and had taken cover behind another tree, Frenzen said. The man escaped serious injury and was sent home to rest.

"The slopes are so steep that falling snags and loose rocks often make it all the way to the bottom of the hill," fire boss Dale Gardner said. "Lookouts and identified fire safety zones are a critical part of our firefighting strategy."

Another safety concern surfaced Wednesday when a mop-up crew on the Office Bridge Fire came upon barrel straps and other containers that raised concern about possible exposure to dangerous chemicals that may have been dumped.

Eugene's hazardous materials team was called to check the material and determined it was safe to work around, Frenzen said.

By 5 p.m. Wednesday, the fire was 40 percent contained, with 409 firefighters, three helicopters, 11 engines, nine water trucks and three helicopters working the blaze. Suppression costs so far exceed $900,000.

At the current rate, firefighters expect to contain the fire by early next week, Frenzen said.

WILDFIRE INVESTIGATION

To report: Authorities ask anyone with information or suspicions about how the fires began to call 935-2283 or 726-3588.

CAPTION(S):

CHRIS PIETSCH / The Register-Guard A firefighter mops up a fire along Camp Creek Road that burned under a high voltage power line.
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Title Annotation:Suspicious: Investigators are looking into several blazes.; Fires
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 5, 2002
Words:879
Previous Article:E. coli total from fair reaches 75.
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