(Update: Fire officials report fire stopped; evacuation levels dropping)
PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) – A ground and air attack by numerous fire crews made good progress Friday evening on stopping a new wildfire that raced through about 70 acres of brush and grass in Juniper Canyon southeast of Prineville, allowing a reduction in evacuation levels.
A structure-protection task force was called out to protect homes after Incident 830, later named the Cowboy Fire, was reported by the Black Butte and Tower Point lookouts around 3:30 p.m. in the area of the 12100 block of Southeast Juniper Canyon Road, about nine miles southeast of Prineville.
“Aggressive use of aircraft, including single-engine air tankers, large air tankers and a Type 2 helicopter moderated fire behavior, allowing firefighters to establish fire lines and stop spread of the fire late this evening,” an update shortly before 9 p.m. said.
A bulldozer line was in place around a significant portion of the perimeter, with the remaining area lined with retardant, it said. Firefighters will widen the control line to secure the fire and ensure that it does not grow further.
Working from this line, officials said, they will use water to cool areas of heat and knock down flames. Overnight, firefighters will continue mop-up, patrol and strengthening the fireline. Saturday morning, mop-up work will continue under a Type 3 organization.
Resources on the fire, battled in hot and windy conditions, included numerous wildland fire engines, structural fire engines, water tenders, rappellers, hand crews and dozers. Law enforcement personnel facilitated the evacuation of residences near the fire area.
“We’ve made some pretty significant headway with the fire,” Crook County Fire & Rescue Division Chief Russ Deboodt said around 7:30 p.m.
Sheriff John Gautney said fire activity “dropped drastically” by 8 p.m., so all evacuation levels would be dropping to Level 1 (Get Ready) at 9 p.m., to be re-evaluated Saturday morning.
Earlier, with the wind-fanned fire moving fast in juniper and grass, deputies had gone door to door to advise of Level 3 (Go Now) evacuations in one area and Level 2 (Get Set) pre-evacuation alerts for an area to the north.
The American Red Cross set up a shelter at Carey Foster Hall at the Crook County Fairgrounds in Prineville for people displaced or affected by the Cowboy Fire, Deboodt said.
Winds were pushing the fire toward the northwest early on, but shifted by evening, sending the fire backing slowly toward the east, the fire official said. So retardant drops shifted to the other side of the fire.
No structures were lost, Deboodt said. Juniper Canyon Road remained open for traffic, but the official asked people to avoid the area to keep things clear for firefighting efforts.
Air tankers from as far away as La Grande were called into drop retardant and slow the blaze, which forced Level 3 evacuations in the area. A bulldozer also was on scene working to help establish a fire line.
The Crook County Sheriff’s Office had posted this evacuation map Friday evening on its Facebook page:
Fire information officer Christie Shaw said the blaze by 6 p.m. had “checked up a bit,” due to hitting rocky terrain and several retardant drops on its flanks. Still, she said, there’s still “lots of line to build” amid shifting winds.
C.O. fire officials are tweeting updates as well.
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