Neighbors help avert disasters in 'the fastest fire I've ever seen'

The charred remains of trees stand naked in the wake of the Substation Fire's devastation on the Urness family farm near The Dalles Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (KATU Photo)

The flames from the Substation Fire made quick work of the Urness family’s horse barn and hay storage building.

The fire came close to the family’s home, as well, managing to start a small fire inside by burning through a basement window. Mackenzie Urness’s father and some neighbors rushed back in to put out the fire not once, but twice.

“If they wouldn’t been here and paying attention, like they were, the house would have been a complete loss,” Urness said.

She added, “I’ve been out to help on fires, but it’s never, I mean it’s never, I feel like it’s (never) affected as many people as this one has. It’s like it’s just wiped through here, wiped through family, relatives, just completely took down their house.”

Neighbors stepped up to help the Urnesses in other ways. One neighbor dropped off a trailer full of hay for the family to use to help feed their horses.

Deputies also came to help the family, for which Judy Urness is grateful.

“They helped me load up horses and get them out of here,” she said.

The family says what’s tough for a lot of farmers is that the fire came just after Monday’s start of the wheat harvest in the area, torching the crop and harvest equipment used to bring it in.

The fire has destroyed at least one home and several outbuildings. One person was found dead near a tractor, likely dying from exposure to the fire.

A mailbox stood at the entry to one property just down the road where firefighters believe a home burned, but they’ve been too busy protecting other homes to confirm what was lost there.

The Substation Fire started sometime Tuesday afternoon southeast of The Dalles and quickly grew to over 36,000 acres by Wednesday, forcing many evacuations.

Not far away, between The Dalles and Dufur, 2,000 of those 36,000 acres charred so far were on Dezi Remington’s family farmland.

“It was, I mean, lines of fire, 10, 15 feet high, and just rushing through wheat,” Remington said. “It’s the fastest fire I’ve ever seen.”

The relentless winds powered the fire up hills and turned wheat fields into ash.

Remington said her farm lost a little less than 1,000 acres of wheat.

While the flames may have taken the crop, family, friends and neighbors saved what mattered most.

“It burned right up to the side of my house right up to the back of our barn,” Remington said.

She and her husband got married in that barn, which still stood in the middle of a burn scar.

“It was extremely emotional. I mean, I broke down a little bit. It was so scary and yet, I was so thankful,” Remington said.

Just south of The Dalles, authorities Wednesday cordoned off a section of the east side of Highway 197, where they believe the Substation Fire started.

The Red Cross has set up a shelter at The Dalles Middle School for those who have been displaced by the fire.

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