Colorado Springs-like fire 'definitely a reality' for The Dalles

THE DALLES, Ore. - The smoke rose from the hillside from the Chenoweth Rim fire Monday afternoon while the wind picked up, but firefighters said they weren't too worried.

The fire is about 75 percent contained, but hot spots still smoldered from the 70-acre fire that started in the Eagle Caves area Sunday afternoon. It threatened dozens of homes as it burned on the northwestern edge of town. But existing man-made trails and bulldozers helped create fire lines and other fire breaks to keep the fire from getting out of control.

Still many area residents were worried for a time with the images of the burned homes in Colorado Springs late last month fresh in their minds. Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue Chief Bob Palmer said one resident asked a firefighter whether the fire could get out of control like in Colorado.

"We tried to assure him that we weren't planning on letting that happen. ... (But) it is definitely a reality. It can happen here just as well as it's happening in Colorado Springs right now," Palmer said. "It wouldn't have taken much given another few days of heating the fuels a little bit more and some lower humidities for it to have gotten a lot bigger.

He also said from his point of view, "it's cropping up to be a pretty interesting (fire) season."

The fire crept toward the back of several homes along West 13th Street, including Dorothy Krueger's. She was out of town when the fire started. Her kids called her and told her what was happening. They even packed up belongings in the house in case they needed to be evacuated.

Krueger has lived here for 15 years and this is the closest call she's had.

"This is the third time. ... This is the closest it's ever gotten, but this is the third time, the second time for an evacuation notice," she said. "But there's a path that comes maybe 20 feet behind our fence, and it came right down to that path and it totally - they stopped it at the path otherwise it would have come on in."

Krueger credited firefighters with saving the day.

Firefighters were putting out hot spots and mopping up Monday. Palmer said they will be continuing mop-up operations for a least another day to make sure the fire is out cold.

One key aspect of this fire is the material it burned. It moved quickly through underbrush under the Chenoweth Rim and stayed out of the tree canopy. If that had happened, firefighters said it likely would have been more destructive and gotten much bigger.

The wind actually helped in that regard. It moved the fire quickly across the land so there wasn't time for larger trees to ignite.

While disaster was averted for Palmer this time, he's still on edge.

"The Fourth of July is what, two days from now? And it's supposed to warm up," he said.

A wet June also helped firefighters and kept the fire danger low to moderate but KATU Meteorologist Dave Salesky said warmer and drier weather is on its way.

No one was injured and no structures were lost to the fire.

Fire crews don't yet know how the fire started. Several neighbors said they believe someone was playing with fireworks. But fire officials said they couldn't find evidence of that.

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