▶️ Parents and families react to another school year starting with masks

Naomi Ludwig has three boys in Bend-La Pine Schools.

“The thought of him wearing a mask all day in school, through PE, never taking it off, that is hard on them. No water fountain. I’m not really excited about this next school year.”

That was Ludwig talking about last school year, when kids returned to in-person learning classes, having to wear masks.

On Thursday, she learned her kids are going to have to wear masks at school again this year.

“I’m not for the masks, definitely. I am all for safety, but I think the kids need to breathe,” she said.

Gov. Kate Brown has asked state health and education leaders to draft new rules requiring masks indoors for k-12 students this fall.

Brown’s decision comes from concern over the highly contagious delta variant and rising COVID cases across the state.

K-12 schools to require masks this fall as COVID cases rise across Oregon

Owen Ludwig, a kindergartner, wasn’t thrilled either.

“I can’t breathe in it,” he said.

Some local school districts had announced earlier this summer that masks wouldn’t be needed this fall.

But after Thursday’s announcement, everything has changed.

Tami Hamey, the mother of a Bend High freshman, said she was fine with the decision.

‘Whatever we need to do, to get kids back in the school,” she said. “If more people got vaccinated, then we probably wouldn’t have to, but the choice not to, so it is what it is.”

Judy and Bruce Carpenter have six grandkids in Central Oregon public schools.

“I think it’s going to be really hard on the kids,” Judy said. “I mean it is difficult to have it on so long for adults let alone kids.”

“Difficult for the kids,” Bruce added. “But I think it is necessary for the health of their well-being.”

▶️ ‘Failure was not an option’: La Pine fire captain reflects on 25 years

Mark Pautz remembers when he was 33-years-old with two kids and no job between him and his wife.

“Failure was not an option because I’d given up too much and we had a lot to lose,” Pautz said.

“Scary,” said Pautz about what it was like moving from Southern California to Oregon with no job and two kids. “If you want to talk scary about the fire service, that was probably more scary than anything.”

That all changed in August 1995, when he got into a resident student program to become a firefighter.

“It was like somebody had given me a second chance,” he said. “The student program was probably the best thing to ever happen to me because it just opened the door.”

That door led to 25 years of service with the La Pine Rural Fire Protection District.

Pautz retired on Tuesday.

The oldest student working with a crew of only 6, in a town with no traffic lights.

“My job then was basically do whatever they wanted me to do,” Pautz said. “I was the low man on the totem pole. It was firefighting, engineering, EMS, pretty much just an extra set of hands for the career staff at the time.”

Success was his only choice.

“I wasn’t going to let them down,’ Pautz added. “I was going to make sure they knew they didn’t make the wrong choice.”

The three year program was a success, Pautz was hired by the La Pine Rural Fire Protection District and 25 years later, 10 as a captain, Pautz retired at age 59.

“I would not change a thing,” he said. “Wouldn’t change a thing. Best job in the world. The best career in the world. What it has done for me and my family is priceless.”

His retirement plans.

“I always told myself when I retire I know what I am going to do,” Pautz said. “I am going to get a job at a golf course and get free golf and that is what I am doing.”

To honor his service, the station gave Pautz a plaque with the axe he used for 15 years and hoses directed as the American flag.

▶️ Redmond fire cache plays crucial, unseen role in firefighting efforts

The Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon is the nation’s largest fire, as more than 2,000 firefighters try to contain the 410,000-acre blaze.

But they couldn’t make any progress at all without the help of some unsung heroes miles away in Redmond.

“I prefer to be behind the scenes and really the gratitude comes from the firefighters that we interact with when we chat with folks that use our gear,” said Tom O’Berry, the small engine mechanical superisor of the Northwest Fire Cache. “They generally say thank you, we started that pump right up when we went to use it and that makes us feel good.”

O’Berry has worked at the Northwest Fire Cashe in Redmond for 21 years.

It’s unseen work inspecting, cleaning, repairing fire equipment, to send back out to crews across the country on the front line.

“I feel complete, I feel like I did my best work here and it will show out in the field when fire personal are using our equipment,” he said.

Equipment like this chainsaw that was recently used to fight the Bootleg Fire.

“So, this would come through our return section, we would receive in the shop, take it, clean it, service and or repair and then test run, recertify it and move it to the next process to where it could go through the kit building room,” he said.

A national incident support cache operated by 60 people, working on an average on 1,800 pieces of equipment per fire season.

The work might be behind the scenes, but it certainly isn’t unnoticed.

“Nobody out on the ground could do their job without this cache. If this cache wasn’t here providing those supplies, everything else really wouldn’t matter,” said Jean Nelson-Dean, a spokeswoman for the Deschutes National Forest. “It’s kind of the foundation of everything we do. It’s the behind the scenes of firefighting, it’s really important and not everybody knows that it’s here.”

Hoses, tents, axes and saws – inspected by workers who might not be on the front lines, but certainly play a very important role.

“They work long hours; they do tremendous support to our firefighters and so it’s just again another part of the firefighting system and like they say it really does take a village to fight a fire,” she said.

▶️ Free fair, ride passes at vaccine clinics; Fairgrounds taking precautions

You can get a free pass to the fair, or free rides at the Deschutes County Fair.

All you have to do is get your COVID-19 vaccine this week.

Deschutes County Public Health will host vaccine clinics all week, like Monday’s at the Sister’s Fire House.

Show up, get your vaccine and they will also give you some freebies to use at the fair.

“They’re really taking advantage of that free bracelet or the tickets, and we are also hearing concern for the delta variant or school coming up, so there’s really a mix of reasons people are coming down,” said Deschutes County Public Health Nurse Shannon Walker.

St. Charles CEO ‘worried’ about delta variant in Central Oregon; expects spike

If you aren’t planning on going to the fair, and still plan on getting vaccinated, you can also win $100 gift cards to local businesses through a raffle.

A vaccination booth is at the fair this year from 3-6 p.m. and due to COVID concerns, the fairgrounds will have masks available, as well as sanitation stations.

“Following the state-mandated guidelines those that are unvaccinated are not required to wear masks on an indoor space, though we will continue to recommend those for those that are visiting, whether they are vaccinated or not, out of abundance of precaution,” said Deschutes County Fairgrounds Director Geoff Hinds.

Jefferson County held its fair last week and attendance was double from 2019.

Hinds etimates around 35,000 people made the trip this year.

Hinds expects a large crowd in Redmond, but not much larger than usual.

▶️ Jefferson Co. health dept. disappointed in lottery incentive impact

All across the country, lotteries were a popular way to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

In late May Jefferson County Commissioners offered 11 $10,000 prizes for residents who had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

Six of those 11 winners have been announced.

But officials weren’t impressed with how the community responded to the incentive.

“Yes, we were a little disappointed,” said Michael Baker, the health services director for Jefferson County Public Health.

Turns out more people decided to pass on the shot and a chance at $10,000.

“We were just disappointed in the general trend that a lot of people weren’t coming out to get the vaccine,” Baker said.

The county received more than $220,000 in CARES Act funding to help fund a lottery. 

Jefferson County Public Health specifically asked the question at some of their clinics, what brought you out, was it the incentive?

“There were a few positive responses, yes that was what finally made them come out and get it, but by far the number one incentive that we saw here in Jefferson County was actually the closer the individual was to a known positive case, especially if that case had a severe case of COVID,” Baker added.

Baker believes the next big motivator to get vaccinated might be the seriousness of the delta variant.

“The fact that it is more contagious spreads a lot easier, has a bigger impact and the fact that the individuals that are most impacted are the unvaccinated,” Baker said. “We’re thinking that could be the next incentive.”

Nearly 65% of eligible adults in Jefferson County have been vaccinated if you include doses given on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation and the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution.

“To this day even after the vaccine incentive, the overall decline in vaccine uptake is really frustrating from a Public Health Perspective, especially when you actually look at how safe these vaccines actually are,” Baker said.

The Oregon Health Authority says statewide it’s not possible to calculate the number of people who got vaccinated as a result of Oregon’s Take Your Shot Lottery, but the data showed a steady vaccination rate during the campaign.

▶️ From tryout to arena football star, Prineville athlete thrives with Storm

In late February, the Oregon High Desert Storm arena football team held open tryouts.

The team picked just two players, including 2016 Crook County Graduate and standout athlete Parker Lapsley.

Lapsley made the team but was restricted with a shoulder injury.

“It just made me more hungry,” said Lapsley. “I kind of started back at the bottom like an underdog and I was just patient and never gave up, kept pushing myself and now I am starting for them.”

“Parker is just a really awesome dude,” Former Mountain View High and University of Oregon kicker Zach Emerson. “One of the hardest workers on the team here. So, I have a lot of respect for him in that aspect. He’s just been grinding, waiting for his opportunity.”

That opportunity soon came and the coaches put the ball in his hands.

▶️ Hoping to play for a paycheck, Redmond pro football tryouts attract a crowd

“Parker on the field, energetic,” said High Desert Storm receiver Kris Lewis. “He is going to make a play, he’s going to make you ooh and aww. He’s the energy guy here. He’s going to bring the big plays from the backfield.”

“He’s fun, he loves the game, he is always eager to get on the field and show what he can do,” said Storm receiver Devonte Solomon.

Over his last four games, Lapsley has scored 12 touchdowns, 11 rushing and one receiving.

“Knowing that I am going against some D1 players to ex-NFL even, it’s just feeling like it’s making better as an athlete, to my connects,” Lapsley said. “Meeting head coaches with other teams we play against and everybody that could be in the Canadian leagues to all over. So I am just getting my foot stuck in the little crack of the door that could possibly lead to who knows and I am not stopping here.”

From Prineville High School to arena football star, for Lapsley, it’s only the start.

“I’ve always been an underdog like I have been saying, now I am out here being one of our star running backs for us, so anything is possible, just don’t give up on yourself, don’t shorten yourself,” Lapsley added.

The Storm takes on the Idaho Horseman Saturday, 7 p.m. at the Deschutes County Fair and Expo Center.

▶️ Hoping for a miracle, Jefferson Co. comes together to pray for water

The farming community of Jefferson County is struggling amidst this severe drought

Land left untouched, workers laid off due to short growing seasons, and to help fight this drought a dozen churches got together Sunday to pray.

Pray for rain.

This was the first big gathering for a lot of these churches since the pandemic.

Two words were repeatedly said when talking about getting through this drought, hope, and prayer.

“I led a prayer about the drought and just asking God for, just a miracle,” said fifth generation Culver farmer Evan Thomas. “That’s what it’s going to take right now, a miracle.”

A dozen churches and more than 100 people came together at the Madras Free Methodist church to pray for water.

“It’s tough,” Evans said. “It’s tough to keep your employees, it’s tough to think about next year, knowing where Wickiup is again, the irrigation reservoir we get our water from. I said it last night and I will say it again, I’ve just been standing that he wasn’t going to give me one drop more or one drop less than I need.”

Due to the water shortage, Thomas was only able to grow crops on less than half of his 1,200-acre farm.

“All the overhead costs are still there, all of our land rents, we still have to pay for our full two feet of water even though we will only get eight tenths of our water this year,” Thomas added. “So, it’s expensive and there’s not too many years it’s going to be sustainable.”

It didn’t matter the church, or the denomination, they all came together for one purpose.

“We worshiped and we prayed and we’re just expecting God to help,” said lead pastor at the Free Methodist Church Rick Herbert. “Help the farmers, help the workers that work for the farmers and just help our area and you know, bring rain.”

The group prayed for firefighters, first responders and anyone affected by fires and the drought.

“Without water we are not going to be able to produce food and food doesn’t come straight from the grocery store,” Thomas said. “It starts right here.”

The irrigation water in Jefferson County will be shut off mid-August.

▶️ When fire season arrives, so do the fire beetles

Firefighters deal with so much out on the job.

From the obvious – slowing the spread of wildfires. To some more unusual things they have to deal with.

Some are more annoying than others, which really bug firefighters and can be a real pain in the neck.

“I think they have small spikes in their feet and when they try to get in and run down your skin real quick, usually collar area, the back of your collar, if your shirt is not tucked in, up your pain leg, I have seen it that way to,” said Redmond Battalion Chief Ken Brown.

For 29 years Brown has been fighting fires in Central Oregon and with those fires, comes “fire beetles.”

“There’s no way to prevent it,” Brown said. “I mean you can completely encapsulate yourself and maybe you will keep them from landing on you, they are going to land on you, they just not might find the easiest way in.”

These dark gray beetles are related to metallic wood-boring beetles.

“This particular species are attracted very strongly to heat and infrared and they are amazingly able to hone into fire zones from very far away even 50, 60, I have even heard 100 miles away,” said retired entomologist Jerry Freilich.

They can smell smoke and have heat-sensing organs.

“These particular species of beetle, lays their eggs on recently burned timber,” Freilich added.

Unfortunately for the firefighters, these beetles can be a bit of a nuisance.

“They’re not very intelligent,” Freilich said. “I mean they are just flying around, and they land on things, and they are going to try and bore into it and they can bite you, but it’s more of a thing where you shake them off.”

Brown can attest to the bites firsthand.

“It’s just very uncomfortable and the bites are not terrible,” Brown said. “They don’t leave any lasting marks or anything that I ever noticed, but very uncomfortable and very inopportune when you are trying to get some stuff done, fight some fire, protect structures or whatever you are doing. They just smell the smoke from a distance and come out of the woodwork literally.”

The beetles might be annoying to firefighters, but they don’t pose any danger to their health.

▶️ “Like losing a brother”: A jockey’s emotional return after racetrack tragedy

It wasn’t easy for some jockeys to get back on the track again after fellow rider Eduardo Gutierrez Sosa died from injuries sustained in a fall Wednesday night.

▶️ “Our hearts are broken”: Fallen jockey honored after Wednesday night tragedy

“There are two ways I can look at it,” said fellow jockey Vladimir Jensen. “I can grieve about it, which is alright. We all grieve when something tragic happens.

“Or the second thing, you can think, ‘what does he love doing best?’ He would want us to do the same thing, go out there and have fun because he is going to be up there looking down at us and be going, ‘I don’t want you guys to back down. I would do the same thing for you.’”

“It was emotional, but you have to keep your mind clear, your mind focused,” Jensen added. “We had a friend pass away, it’s hard. It’s not going to be the same without him around us.”

Doug Smith, Chairman of the Crooked River Roundup Horse Races, believes this was the first fatal horse racing incident in Oregon in more than 40 years.

He described the tension in the air when horses got back on the track the following night.

“I think you could feel a little knot in your stomach from the night before,” he said. “…But as the night went on, I think the knot got a little looser and we all started maybe having a little fun.”

A few jockeys close to Gutierrez Sosa decided not to race again after the incident. 

“When you travel with someone for such a long time, it’s probably like losing a brother more than like losing someone you work with,” Smith added.

Brother, father, husband, mentor.

“He would smile, always had a positive attitude in this business, always smile when he is on a horse, in the jock’s room,” Jensen said. “Great guy, his family is amazing.

“He was part of our family. I mean, us horsemen are always a big family. We come here to have a good time, to compete and he was a part of it.”

More than $16,500 was donoted to the Gutierrez Sosa family in-person at the races, and a GoFundMe page has so far raised another $13,000. 

“That was amazing. It made everyone’s hearts kind of melt,” Jensen said.

“That absolutely shows you what a wonderful community we live in, not just Prineville, but the entire Central Oregon area has been a part of this, and the horseman has contributed to it,” Smith said. “It shows we are one big family.”

The races and donations will continue through Saturday night.

▶️ “Our hearts are broken”: Fallen jockey honored after Wednesday night tragedy

What should have been a night of fun, smiles and laughter at the Crooked River Roundup Horse Races turned to tragedy Wednesday night.

A 29-year-old veteran jockey, Eduardo Gutierrez-Sosa, died after he was thrown off his horse in the first race of the night.

“The Crooked River Roundup Association, our hearts are broken,” said Director of Racing and Chair of Racing Committee Doug Smith.

Gutierrez-Sosa died from injuries sustained in the fall.

“For someone to lose their life for entertainment, that’s not part of what we’re here for,” Smith said. “We’re here to entertain and put on a good show.” 

One more race ran after the incident, but organizers canceled the rest of the night’s races out of respect for the fallen jockey.

“We just hope that everybody in the community will keep the family of the rider in their prayers and thoughts, and our hearts are just absolutely broken,” Smith added.

Spectators began donating their ticket money to the jockey’s family and $3,500 was raised by the end of the night.

UPDATE: Jockey killed at Crooked River Roundup Horse Races identified

The races are continuing as scheduled and will run through Saturday.

“Our board has elected to put donation barrels out at the front gate tonight, so if you want to come, enjoy the races, help a family in need, we’d really appreciate it,” Smith said.

Prineville Police and the State Racing Board are conducting a joint investigation.

Thursday night, fans are asked to wear the color pink, which Gutierrez-Sosa often wore, to honor his memory. 

Gutierrez-Sosa is survived by his wife and three young children.