Escaped campfires have been identified as the cause of two fires that closed the Redmond Airport on June 29th.
The first of two fires that burned nearly 100 acres inside the Redmond City limits started around 12 p.m. near Antler and SE 9th Street.
A second fire near the Redmond Air Center started about an hour later. Because the second start was upwind, it was determined to not be connected with the first.
“Both fires are considered to be human caused and unintentional. There’s no evidence they were intentionally set. They appear to come from campfire rings,” said Jeff Puller, Deputy Chief, Redmond Fire & Rescue. “It was just the perfect storm of conditions: The hottest day of the year. Some of the strongest winds we’ve had and erratic winds.”
One of the first crews to respond were surrounded by fire, forced to retreat and leave behind an engine that was damaged by flames.
A tire burned and lights and a siren melted. Incredibly, everything still works.
Fanned by strong easterly winds and 112 degree heat, the fire headed west, and threatened to burn into residential and commercial areas.
“We had a wood mill right on the edge that we were very concerned about. As that fire went to the south it spotted across Highway 126 and started on the south side before we got it headed towards the airport,” Puller said.
Level 3 “Go Now” evacuation notices were issued commercial and residential properties closest to the fire.
Level 2 “Get Set” and Level 1 “Get Ready” notices went out to thousands more nearby properties.
The Redmond Airport closed to allow air tankers and helicopters to operate in the air space on the north end of the airport.
Staff at the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center who were coordinating retardant and water drops on the fire were told to evacuate, but elected to stay and continue the firefight.
“Especially with the aircraft we had flying on it, if something would have come across the highway there, and the personnel we had on it, we would have gotten on it pretty fast,” said James Brown, Assistant Manager, Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch. “There is a little bit lower fuel load on this side of the highway.”
No one we spoke with knew anything about plans to rehabilitate the charred landscape, plainly visible along Highway 126.
Central Oregonians and passing motorists may have to deal with the blackened, dry and dusty mess for months to come.