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SPRAGUE RIVER - No time to spare.
Fast-moving fire outruns Moccasin Hill residents

 Winds, scattered homes made fight an ‘exceptional challenge.’  Victims inspect damage as community rallies

, Herald and News 7/16/14
     SPRAGUE RIVER — The first indication something was wrong was the wall of flames David Pool saw from his Sprague River cabin.

   Pool said from a window in his hillside log cabin — in the Moccasin Hill subdivision four miles north of Sprague River — the fire, about two miles away, was burning twice as high as the tree line.

   “It was pretty staggering,” he said.

   Pool said he left to warn neighbors of the blaze, and he gathered about a dozen animals off his hill. It only took an hour before the fire, eventually dubbed the Moccasin Hill Fire, scorched his property.

   Fortunately, Pool said, his wife, Summer   Swager, and the couple’s 3-year-old son were not home when the fire erupted. But, their 1,300-square-foot cabin, which Pool values at about $50,000, is a complete loss.

   After the couple returned to the property, Pool knew leaving was the right decision. The cabin’s tin roof panels now drape an exposed woodburning stove and a truck left at the property is a burned out shell, blistered from the searing heat.

   “I could tell that if you would have stood there with a shovel and a hose, even with an airplane dumping water on you, you wouldn’t have made it out of there,” he said Tuesday. “There was so much fuel, so densely stacked up, I don’t think it could have been stopped.”
Six homes and 14 other structures were destroyed on Sunday alone  

   Bad combination of factors

   Ashen earth and blackened trees are all that is left of much of the Moccasin Hill subdivision where the Moccasin Hill Fire broke out Sunday afternoon. Several trees are still standing, some partially burned, others with only charred branches.

   Joe Hessel, operations chief for the Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Team 2, classified the Moccasin Hill Fire as “extreme” because of the extraordinarily dry conditions.  

   He said winds carried embers from crowning trees up to a half mile ahead of the blaze and the spotted fires.

   “The ground fire coming along behind was very fast,” Hessel said.

   In areas with thick underbrush and sparse trees, the fire burned fast enough that it never reached into the canopy, he said.

   Paul Ries, a public information officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry said the fire’s speed was an “exceptional challenge.” Adding to its complexity, was the fact that it started in the Moccasin Hill subdivision, which is home to an eclectic array of dwellings, ranging from stick-built homes to self-made cabins and portable trailers.  

   “When it first started, I was coming in from Klamath. I could count how many buildings were going up because it would be white smoke, black, white smoke, black,” said resident Maydra Reyes.

   Off-the-grid residents

   According to the Oregon Department of Forestry, six homes and 14 other structures were destroyed in Sunday’s initial fire run. As of 9 a.m. Tuesday, the fire was measured at 2,500 acres,   with 15-percent containment.

   At least 100 structures are still threatened, a news release said.

   Kim McIntyre, co-owner of Whistlers Trading Post in Sprague River, pointed out that many of the destroyed “structures” are actually non-traditional homes that residents live in year-round. She said a number of the subdivision’s residents live off-grid, with no electricity and no phone.

   “Most people up there don’t have mailboxes because they don’t have addresses,” Kim said, adding that The Red Cross told us in order to help them, they had to have a physical address.  

   Lead fire information officer Ashley Lertora said over the next two days officials will complete a more comprehensive survey of homes destroyed by the fire.

   Living unconventionally has also left most without property insurance, James McIntyre, Kim’s husband, added.

   “A structure is a home out here; people live in old campers and trailers. They aren’t the nicest homes, but government should help,” he said. “A lot people are living in 5th wheels or trailers that they couldn’t move because they didn’t have a vehicle.”

   “For some of them, it’s all they have. They’ve lost everything,” Kim said.  

   At noon on Tuesday, Jim Brennan still had no word whether the 5thwheel trailer he lives in survived the blaze. He said there’s only one way off his property and once he saw smoke boiling above the treeline about a mile away, he gathered what he could and left.

   “After I saw how that fire was moving I decided I better grab the dogs and get down to the bottom of the mountain,” Brennan said.

   Brennan said he has only lived at his property for eight days. He is completely off the grid — no electricity, no phone — not even an address.

   “Nobody even knew I was up there,” he said.

   Animals under care

   Since Sunday, the Red Cross Evacuation Center at the Sprague River Community Center has provided shelter and meals for Brennan and about three dozen other displaced Sprague River residents. Names and phone numbers of neighbors willing to provide temporary rooms or boarding for animals line the center’s walls.  

   “We’ve got plenty of food right now thanks to Fred Meyer and a lot of generous people, right now I think everything is about the best it can be,” said volunteer Charlene Sutton. “Everybody is hanging in there and praying a lot.”

   Kim and James McIntyre are providing sanctuary for horses and goats at Whistlers Trading Post.

   The couple has taken in six goats and 16 horses since the fire started. McIntyre said Whistlers has room for more horses and donations of hay or other grain feeds are greatly appreciated. For more information call 541-409-1953.  

   Bridge Connection Director Sharon Quillen said residents affected by the fire can pick up free food boxes, clothing and toys at the center today from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

   Donations can also be dropped off at Bridge Connection during those hours. Quillen said socks, T-shirts and undergarments are greatly needed.

   “Those are the things that go first.”

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN
  H&N photo by Lacey Jarrell

   Sprague River resident David Pool sifts through debris looking for pieces of the solar panels that were mounted next to his home.



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