BANDON — A fire on North Bank Lane that started Tuesday morning has burned an estimated 350 acres and threatened homes in the area. Crews have the fire boxed in but not yet contained, Coos Forest Protective Association District Manager Michael Robison said Wednesday morning.
Homes along Stargazer Lane were evacuated Tuesday, and families hadn't returned to them as of Wednesday morning.
No homes have been destroyed in the fire, Robison said, though a yurt was consumed by flames and the roof of a home did catch fire. A structure task force saved a barn from destruction as well.
"They did a great job of saving those two structures," Robison said.
Since crews have set fire lines around the entire fire, Robison anticipates that it won't spread, though unpredictable east winds could pose difficulties. Fire crews will be working over the next several days to continue putting out the fire.
Robison said it's important for residents in the area to be attentive and avoid starting fires. The landscape, combined with the fires consuming the western United States which are occupying state and federal fire resources make spotting and handling possible new fires in the area a challenge.
"We could have fire on the ground and not know it," Robison said. "We can't get resources."
Over 60 crew members will be responding to the fire Wednesday, including dozers, water tenders and two helicopters. The crew hopes to mop up around the fire and push the fire away from the perimeter throughout the day, Robison said in an email.
Several people who self-evacuated close to the fire Tuesday afternoon returned to their homes Tuesday night. The city of Bandon was not in danger at any time.
Crews from the Coos Forest Protective Association responded to the North Bank Lane fire around 11 a.m., according to CFPA dispatcher Robert Hancock. The fire was reportedly started by downed power lines and was located about 8 miles on North Bank Lane, halfway between Coquille and Bandon.
Some homes in the area were being evacuated at the request of CFPA, according to Gabriel Fabrizio of the Coos County Sheriff's Office. Coos County deputies and Oregon State Police officers went house to house close to the fire to inform residents. The fire jumped the road and was burning on both sides, Fabrizio said.
Though there were concerns the fire had jumped the Coquille River from the strong east winds and started burning along state Highway 42S, there were no official reports of that happening. Bandon City Manager Dan Chandler reported on the city's official Facebook page that the fire was not headed toward Bandon.
"Two hand line crews and three dozers will be working through the night," Chandler wrote in an update about 9 p.m." Smoke appears to be laying down according to the last helicopter on scene tonight."
Tuesday morning, helicopters and a tanker plane were on scene quickly, attempting to douse the flames, according to residents in the area. The helicopters were picking up water from the river while the tanker, out of Medford, was dropping fire retardant. CFPA and Bandon Rural Fire Department crews were on scene with engines, water tankers and bulldozers and more resources were called in. At one point, firefighters and trucks from the North Bend, North Bay, Coos Bay, Charleston, Myrtle Point, Greenacres, Sumner and Millington fire departments were providing mutual aid. Coquille Fire & Rescue was working the fire on the Coquille side. Bandon Police officers, Coos County Sheriff's Office deputies and Oregon State Police troopers also responded.
About 15 people who either voluntarily left their homes or were told to evacuate gathered at the Rocky Point boat launch on North Bank lane Tuesday afternoon.
Donna Cochran was there with some family members. Cochran said she was at work at First Community Credit Union in Coquille when people hired to haul hay on their property saw smoke and discovered the fire, immediately calling 911.
"They went right up there to see if they could help and it was already in the trees because it was so windy," Cochran said. "If they hadn’t seen it right then and called 911 it would have probably gotten (more) out of hand."
Cochran's family immediately called her and they were all concerned about her elderly mother Marie Cochran, who lives nearby. They couldn't get to her home, so Donna left work and went around the fire via Randolph Road to retrieve her mother. Family members met at the boat launch parking lot.
"After the kids called 911, they called me and I said OK, how close is it to grandma’s house and they said, 'well, we don’t know, we can’t get down the road.' So I called grandma and she was at home by herself, so I said I’m leaving work. I went to Randolph, and came back up, loaded grandma, the dogs and the cat. Now we’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do tonight."
The Cochrans ran a dairy on North Bank Lane for many years but now lease out the property and live in a house there.
The fire began between mile post 7 and 8, right across the river from Lampa Lane on Highway 42 South, but quickly spread up the steep terrain and into timberlands. According to a county official, it burned about 25 acres of Coos County Forest lands along with private lands.
Burr and Bobbie Gibbons, who own a home off North Bank Lane on Stargazer Lane, on the same road as Susan and Mike Deets, also evacuated. The Gibbons stayed at a motel in Bandon for the night with their two cats and the Deets stayed with their son in Langlois.
Burr Gibbons said they were told to evacuate by a private citizen who knocked on their door.
"We saw the smoke and we heard the helicopters so we made plans to evacuate, then somebody, a private citizen, drove up our driveway ... and he said you better evacuate, you’ve got about two minutes to get out of here," Burr said.
He and Bobbie quickly grabbed their two cats and crates for them, threw some clothes, valuables and important papers in the car and left about noon. They met an OSP trooper as they were leaving who was also coming to tell them to get out.
"He asked if there were other houses on the road and we told him ... we’re certain the other people on the road were evacuated in time," Burr said.
"And right now (about 4 p.m.) we don’t know anything except it seems the fire is still burning pretty actively and we aren’t expecting to get home tonight. And we hope we have a home to go home to," Burr added.
Mike Deets said he and Susan watched the helicopters and tanker plane from their home before they evacuated. The plane did about five or six passes dropping retardant before it left and the helicopters came back in, Mike said.
"They are pretty amazing pilots," he said.
Smoke was visible from the Rocky Point boat launch, but by 4 p.m. had decreased dramatically from earlier in the day. However, Mike Deets surmised the smoke might have been less visible at that time because the winds had slowed. A short time later, from state Highway 42S at about mile post 5, the flames could be seen bursting up the hillside, dangerously close to homes and a yurt owned by Daemian and Katie Hawthorne and Candace Kreitlow and Pete Bauer. Kreitlow said they were told to evacuate by officials and did not return to their home Tuesday evening. It was later discovered that the yurt that burned housed Bauer's wood-working shop. Lisa Hawthorne and Steve Kuntz also live in the area close to where the fire was burning, as well as Michael and Anna Bell.
Extreme fire conditions due to low humidity and high temperatures, along with strong east winds sparked fires across the state Monday and Tuesday. The conditions were expected to lessen by late Wednesday morning.
Along the South Coast, fires popped up in several locations, keeping firefighters busy. Charleston Fire responded to a fire on Libby Lane, utlizing resources from around the county, according to the North Bay Fire Department. North Bay Fire responded to a grass clipping fire at Haynes Way, which was contained and extinguished. A small fire broke out at Ferry Creek in Bandon but was quickly contained.
The North Bank Lane fire added to the strangely colored hue in the smoke-filled air from Coos Bay to Coquille and south of Bandon. Residents mused that the low humidity and high winds were much like the conditions when a fire burned the town of Bandon on Sept. 26, 1936. That fire started up Bear Creek Road, just off Highway 42S, across the river but not far from Tuesday's fire.