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Oregon Blaze Set by Fire Crews Forces More Evacuations

August 21, 2002|From Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A blaze sparked accidentally by firefighters was corralled Tuesday by fire crews, but not before it forced about a dozen families to flee their homes.

The small fire had been set Monday in an effort to rob fuel from the massive blaze that has raged since mid-July in southwestern Oregon and Northern California, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Wayne Johnson.

Wind whipped embers from the small fire, which grew to about 50 acres before it was controlled, across the Illinois River toward houses in the community of Agness. No homes were lost, but residents were shaken.

"It was quite a show," said Willis Crosse, a fishing guide and volunteer firefighter who elected to stay with his wife to watch over their home while most of their neighbors left.

He said the fire was "just like a blowtorch sitting at the bottom of the mountain."

The larger fire, meanwhile, had grown to more than 470,000 acres, two-thirds the size of Rhode Island, but was 50% contained, Johnson said.

Lines were completed Monday, keeping the fire out of a whitewater rafting section of the Rogue River, marking a turning point in the crews' efforts.

About 75 miles of fire lines remain to be built.

"We would not want to characterize things as all buttoned up yet, but things are looking very good" on the eastern flank, said fire spokeswoman Rochelle Desser.

The blaze, ignited July 13 by lightning, is the largest recorded in Oregon this century.

Elsewhere, a blaze fanned by high wind leaped a highway in two places in the Black Hills of South Dakota near Mt. Rushmore, forcing some residents to evacuate their homes.

Three homes had been destroyed since the fire started Friday evening, and Gov. William Janklow said it seemed inevitable that more would be lost. It had burned across 10,000 acres by Tuesday evening.

"I don't know where it's going. We didn't think it would go here," Janklow said as he watched the fire along both sides of U.S. 16, which leads from Rapid City to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, four miles south of the wildfire.

About 200 people had been evacuated, National Guard Maj. Mark Johnston said Tuesday. The fire was about 40% contained.

Among those forced from their home were Hank and Nancy Jondahl, who live four miles east of Keystone. They spent the day volunteering at the fire camp north of Rockerville.

"We figured if the firefighters saved our house, we could at least hand out water here and help wherever we can," Nancy Jondahl said.

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