Vehicle exhaust causes two fires


by: SUSAN MATHENY/THE PIONEER - Jefferson County firefighters spray water on a burning shed beside teh old Rock Shop building on U.S. Highway 26 north of Madras.Hot carbon from the exhaust of vehicles was determined to be the cause of two fires along U.S. Highway 26, around 1 p.m., Sunday, which threatened the Jefferson Street neighborhood and Chateau Inn motel units.

Jefferson County Fire Chief Brian Huff said approximately 10 acres burned in two different fires that were ignited at the same time. One fire was south of Jefferson Street, burning toward the motel, and the other fire was north of the old rock shop on the Madras grade, burning toward homes and the Jefferson Street neighborhood.

A team of investigators from the Oregon State Police and Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office combed the scene Monday and determined the cause was carbon from the exhaust of vehicles. “It looks like black sooty things, from incomplete combustion, with metallic parts in it,” Huff explained.

People were stopping their cars everywhere to get a look at the fire as it raced toward town. Linda Larson, who lives in the affected neighborhood and was helping direct traffic so fire trucks could get in, said police evacuated residents on Northeast Jefferson Street and west of Seventh Street. She saw people running with hoses to water down houses of neighbors who were not home.

“It was a great job of neighbors helping neighbors, cops helping people, and great firefighters fighting an impossible task and winning hands down. My home, my mom, my dogs, my motor home and pickup were all saved with no help from me, as I was too busy directing traffic,” Larson said.

by: SUSAN MATHENY/THE PIONEER - A fire blazes up a hill north of Madras towards a home, which was saved by firefighters. A crew with shovels stopped the grass from burning into the Jefferson Street neighborhood.She also noted St. Charles Madras let her daughter leave work to come get her 89-year-old mom and take her to wait in the hospital waiting room during the evacuation.

A crew of Bureau of Land Management and Department of Forestry firefighters and homeowners armed with shovels contained the fire moving through dry grass toward homes north and east of the rock shop.

Moving in a line, they climbed the steep hill, throwing dirt on the edge of the flames. The fire burned right up to the fence of one home, but a tanker truck stationed there was able to save the home, as nearby neighbors sprayed their yards with garden hoses.

“One abandoned outbuilding north of the rock shop property was burned, and there was fire damage to another shed east of the rock shop, but we put that one out,” Huff said.

He estimated a total of 20 firefighters responded to contain the fire. They were aided by a shift in the wind, which was blowing from the north instead of toward the east, as it usually does.

“The winds were out of the north, or it would have burned directly into the Jefferson subdivision. We got lucky there, because there are a lot of dry weeds and junipers in there, and the motel has dry grass right up to the structure. The winds kept the fire towards the highway,” Huff said.