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Evacuations urged in central Oregon as 'Darlene 3' wildfire spreads rapidly

The fire started Tuesday near La Pine.
Oregon Wildfires Darlene 3 June 2024
Posted at 11:20 AM, Jun 26, 2024

A wildfire in Oregon’s high desert, near the popular vacation destination of Bend, grew rapidly Wednesday, and officials urged the continued evacuations of hundreds of homes in the area best known for its microbreweries, hiking, river rafting and skiing on nearby Mount Bachelor.

The wind-driven Darlene 3 wildfire was just outside city limits of La Pine, about 30 miles south of Bend, and grew to nearly 4 square miles.

Video taken Tuesday showed a huge plume of thick smoke billowing behind homes, strip malls and grocery stores. Officials set up an evacuation center at a local high school and were working to get horses and other animals out of the area.

“We’re doing much better than we were yesterday,” Geoff Wullschlager, city manager of La Pine, said Wednesday.

Firefighters were able to build a defense around the fire overnight, and fire managers listed the blaze at 30% contained Wednesday.

The concern, however, was stronger winds forecast for later Wednesday, which again could fan the fire.

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Evacuation alerts were sent to 1,100 homes and businesses Tuesday, said Lt. Jayson Janes of the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office. Those orders remained in effect Wednesday, Central Oregon Fire Info said. Janes said about 50-60 people sought refuge at a local high school serving as an evacuation center.

It was not known whether any structures had burned.

Jenny Braden didn’t have to go far to see the plume rising on the outskirts of La Pine. All she had to do was walk outside her house, where the swell of smoke was visible at the end of her street.

When she and her mother received an evacuation notice, they grabbed their four cats, a few personal items and left the house.

They then “spent the next few hours at Dairy Queen, watching the fire grow,” she said by text to The Associated Press on Wednesday. They went to a shelter, where they were informed their evacuation level wasn't meant for immediate displacement and they could go home if they wanted.

They did but were focused on the fire all night in case they had to move quickly.

They have never had to evacuate before, but there were many close calls in the last several years, Braden said.

“This is first that was so close, so quickly, and at a level two,” she said. “It’s super scary!”

Braden was working from home Wednesday, distracted by helicopters and airplanes flying overhead, dropping retardant and water on the fire.

“We’re keeping an eye out, packed more things and keeping the cats in the living room just in case we need to head out again,” she said.

Central Oregon Fire Management Service firefighters used dozers, or heavy construction equipment adapted to battle wildfires, to establish control lines around the blaze.

La Pine High School was serving as a temporary evacuation point while La Pine Rodeo Grounds was hosting a livestock and small animal shelter.

TV station KTVZ reported that several U.S. Forest Service campgrounds and trails had been evacuated and closed.

La Pine is about 192 miles south of Portland.

The fire is among the latest dangerous ones in the U.S.. In New Mexico, thousands fled their homes last week as two fast-moving wildfires approached their village. Two people were killed, and officials have estimated around 1,500 structures were destroyed or damaged.

Search and rescue crews cleared more properties this week in the areas of Ruidoso, the mountain community that was hit hardest by the flames. Authorities confirmed Wednesday during a public meeting that 1,300 structures were searched and that no human remains were found.

Mayor Lynn Crawford also said the list of residents who had been unaccounted for was now at zero.

In the central area of California, a new group of three large wildfires and several smaller ones covered nearly 11 square miles (28 square kilometers) in rural eastern Fresno County, with 20% containment. The Fresno June Lightning Complex was ignited in rugged foothills as remnants of Tropical Storm Alberto flowed across the state Monday afternoon.

“We had over a thousand lightning strikes to hit the county,” Dustin Hail, the Cal Fire unit chief, said at a briefing, adding that other fires that have not yet shown themselves could emerge over several days.

Several areas were under evacuation orders or warnings, and a shelter was set up at a college.

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