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Crews make small gain against blaze

But the Deception Complex fire near Oakridge could still flare up if winds increase

Officials had evacuated for a short time a mobile home park along Highway 58 and about 60 homes along LaDuke Road on Wednesday evening after weather conditions allowed the Deception Complex fire to more than double in size to 1,832 acres from 851 acres. The residents remained on a Level II — or be prepared to leave — standby alert Thursday night.
The fire flared up again Thursday afternoon, as officials had predicted earlier in the day, but it wasn’t as intense as on Wednesday.
“It doesn’t look as bad as it was at this time yesterday,” Rick Acosta, spokesman for the interagency team leading the firefighting efforts, said late Thursday afternoon.
Ground crews were able to reinforce fire lines Thursday where the blaze had rapidly grown and jumped the lines a day earlier, he said. They were assisted by helicopters dumping water and fire retardant on the flames.
More than 1,000 personnel, nine helicopters and more than 40 engines were on the scene Thursday, Acosta said.
Cooler temperatures forecast starting today and continuing through the weekend are expected to aid firefighting efforts. But officials at a news conference Thursday said they are concerned that winds may strengthen or become increasingly unpredictable this weekend.
Residents put on alert said they were breathing a little easier Thursday compared with the day before.
“I feel like we’re going to be okay, unless things switch dramatically overnight” and that seemed doubtful, said Jerry Shortt, who lives on LaDuke Road.
Shortt, 70, and his cousin spent hours Wednesday and Thursday watering down his 7 -acre property with sprinklers and hoses. It’s the closest wildfire has gotten in the nearly 40 years he’s lived on the property, he said. The fire was kept at bay Wednesday night, but burnt leaves rained down on his property.
Acosta reminded residents who have been put on alert to remain vigilant.
“Residents should take that seriously,” he said of the Level II standby alert. “There is still fire in the area.”
The fire was burning west of the Middle Fork ranger station on Highway 58 on the other side of a tall ridgeline. The ranger station, located about four miles west of Oakridge, was closed.
Lightning storms caused the first fires in the area in July, with an Aug. 10 storm causing at least one new fire in the area.
Meg Mitchell, Williamette National Forest supervisor, said Thursday that firefighters had been focusing on digging fire lines to contain the fire rather than attempting to extinguish it because the steep terrain was deemed unsafe for firefighters.
The fire had been about half contained Wednesday but quickly grew that afternoon when changing weather conditions brought in warmer and drier air, officials said.
Three smaller fires merged, and the blaze was able to jump containment lines and run up the ridgeline separating it from the homes. Burning debris ignited a few small spot fires on the hillside above the homes before firefighters quickly extinguished them. No structures were lost.
“It made all its push in a couple-hour period, then it set down,” said Shawn Sheldon, another Willamette National Forest official.
The smoke settled over Oakridge and caused air quality in the eastern Lane County town to deteriorate to unhealthy levels both days. The city’s air quality remained at an unhealthy level Thursday night.
In response to the unhealthy air quality, the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency advised residents to stay indoors, if possible, and limit outdoor activity, especially for children, senior citizens and people with heart and lung conditions.
The smoke has drifted into Bend and Cottage Grove, and the Waldo Lake Recreation Area farther east in the Willamette National Forest was reported to be very smoky.

Highway 58 remained open to traffic, although smoke limited visibility at times. Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Rick Little said it is possible the highway may be closed at some point due to the fire.
“We’ve also notified the contractor on a paving project east of Oakridge to be prepared to leave the highway quickly if such notification is necessary,” Little said Thursday. “That contractor is currently making a strong push to complete the paving today.”

Little also said people traveling over the holiday weekend should stay informed about the fire, be prepared to take an alternate route, and be ready for the unexpected if their route includes Highway 58.
At the Deception Creek Mobile Home Park on Thursday morning, Phil Macabee, 76, was gathering up belongings to return to his daughter’s home in Oakridge.
The smoke has been keeping away from the area in recent weeks, giving comfort to the residents, he said, but everything changed when the wind shifted Wednesday.
Macabee was attending an informational meeting Wednesday afternoon at the ranger station when he was told to go home due to the Level II standby alert.
He returned home to find the plume of smoke rising near the mobile home park, turning the setting sun red.
A neighbor told him about the Level III evacuation order at around 6 p.m., and he, his wife and their seven cats left to stay the night at their daughter’s home. As the fire settled for the night, officials returned to a Level II standby alert a short time later.
Macabee said he wasn’t getting worked up about the uncertainty because the fire was out of his control.
“You can’t accomplish anything worrying,” he said. “You have to have a plan of action and act.”
He also praised the work of the firefighters. They’ve done as good a job as humanly possible,” he said.
Officials said residents appeared to be taking news of the fire in stride.
“Overall, I’d say the community is pretty used to wildfire,” said Tom Lavagnino, another fire team spokesman.
Reporter Jack Moran contributed to this report.
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