Fire advances toward small community

PORTLAND — Oregon's fire season got more intense Friday as lightning peppered the southwest and south-central regions, touching off dozens of fires, and a week-old wildfire advanced to within a few miles of a small community along the Deschutes River.

In Central Oregon, the Sunnyside Turnoff fire has led to several brief evacuation advisories as it has burned north through the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

The fire grew by about by 2-3 square miles Wednesday and Thursday as it moved through ponderosa pine forest in the Mutton Mountains, and by Friday it had begun to leave the reservation and burn on private and federal government land. It was within a few miles of a cluster of 10 vacation homes on the west side of the Deschutes River, in an unincorporated community named Dant in Wasco County.

Homeowner Robert Groves said one family remained. He and guests left because of the smoke.

He said the compound gets irrigation and firefighting water from the river.

When the fire threat gets serious, Groves said, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad sends a fire train with half a dozen tanker cars, pressurized hoses and a crew to defend a nearby bridge and tunnel. As of midday, the train hadn't been dispatched, he said.

"When they're there, it's really a good feeling," he said.

In Southern Oregon, the Oregon Department of Forestry said an air tanker with fire retardant and four helicopters were dispatched to Douglas County in hopes of snuffing out new fires while they're small.

More than 400 lightning strikes were recorded overnight in Oregon, 200 in Douglas County. More than 60 fires were reported — 54 in Douglas County.

By midday, the Department of Forestry said, two of the fires had grown to more than 5 acres and several others were 2-3 acres.

Authorities in the region had issued numerous advisories late in the week and monitored the lightning as it moved north from California.

"This is what we were worried about ... once we get an ignition source, the potential for large fires is great," said Carol Connolly, a spokeswoman at the northwest fire center.

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