Investigators: Two Bulls wildfire human caused

BEND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — According to an evening update from the Central Oregon Fire Information Center, firefighters made “good progress” Monday and contained 25% of the wildfire in Central Oregon.

Meanwhile, a joint investigation to locate the origin and cause of the fires that made up the Two Bulls fire revealed Monday that the fires were human caused.

A team of investigators from the Oregon State Police, U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Walker Range Fire Protection Association, and Oregon Department of Forestry determined the cause.

Anyone with information that could help identify the suspects is asked to contact the Crime Stoppers Tip Line at 1.877.876.TIPS. Cascade Timberlands has added $2,000 for information that leads to a successful conviction.

A helicopter helps to fight the Two Bulls wildfire near Bend, June 9, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
A helicopter helps to fight the Two Bulls wildfire near Bend, June 9, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

The threat from an early season wildfire to homes on the outskirts of Bend eased earlier Monday afternoon, as hundreds of firefighters attacked the blaze, strengthening fire lines protecting scattered rural homes and a popular outdoor recreation area.

About 50 households northwest of Bend remained under a Level III evacuation notice after fires that erupted Saturday near Tumalo Reservoir joined to burn through an area of about 10 square miles, or 6,800 acres of heavy brush and timber. Residents of about 200 homes were allowed to return home late Sunday, but they were cautioned to remain ready to evacuate.

Current Evacuation Notice Levels Map

As of 5:30 p.m., the American Red Cross said they had closed the shelter at High Desert Middle School. The Red Cross reported that they are working in collaboration with local and state agencies to remain ready to reopen the shelter should additional evacuations occur.

A wildfire threatens Bend, June 7, 2014 (EyeOnBend.com)
A wildfire threatens Bend, June 7, 2014 (EyeOnBend.com)

The hottest part of the fire was on the western and northwestern flanks, moving up the eastern slope of the Cascade Range and away from the city of Bend.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber ordered the mobilization of firefighters across the state Monday morning to combat the massive wildfire currently burning through 6,000 acres of forest.

The possibility of worsening conditions — and the proximity of the fire to Bend’s water source, the Bridge Creek watershed — led Kitzhaber to invoke the Emergency Conflagration Act. In doing so, the governor called for all firefighting resources related to the Deschutes County fire to be utilized under a central Oregon command.

“With the fires so close to Bend and the city’s water supply, the State Fire Marshal and the Department of Forestry are working cooperatively with the U.S. Forest Service and the local community to minimize threats to people and property,” Kitzhaber said. “I have directed all available state resources to help contain the fires and ensure that nearby communities have every resource necessary to protect their citizens.”

After the governor invoked the Conflagration Act, structural fire crews from around the state were stationed around threatened homes. Firefighters also worked to keep the fire from the city’s watershed.

Investigators aren't yet sure how the Two Bulls fire may have started. (Central Oregon Fire)
Investigators aren’t yet sure how the Two Bulls fire may have started. (Central Oregon Fire)

As the only major fire in the Northwest, fire bosses were able to take advantage of plentiful resources, Northwest Interagency Coordination Center spokesman Tom Knappenberger said. A Type II incident management team, the second-highest level available, took charge Sunday.

There were 800 personnel assigned to the fire, 11 bulldozers, 11 helicopters and 48 engines. Two air tankers were on standby. One firefighter suffered a minor leg laceration on Monday.

The costs to date were estimated at $2.2 million; however, no other injuries or serious property damage have been reported, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office said.

Spokeswoman Lisa Clark of the Central Oregon fire dispatch center said Monday morning that the weather will make the Two Bulls fire especially challenging until about Thursday. A cooling trend was forecast for the next week, with highs up to 81 degrees and winds of 15 mph to 20 mph.

The fire was burning primarily on private timberlands and some of the Deschutes National Forest, Clark said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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