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Fire may have started in smoldering material near mill; cause under investigation.

PHOTO BY RYAN GROTE - The Mecca Fire burns along the Deschutes River.A fire that started July 2, in the area of the old Warm Springs mill, threatened homes and caused the closure of U.S. Highway 26 for about six hours before crews gained control of the wind-whipped fire.

According to Warm Springs Fire Management Officer Trey Leonard, the Mecca Fire was estimated at about 800 acres on Tuesday morning, July 3, when Warm Springs transferred command of the fire to a Central Oregon Type 3 fire management team.

"They're going to GPS it for accurate mapping," said Leonard, noting that the Museum at Warm Springs and the Indian Head Casino, which had been evacuated Monday afternoon, reopened on Tuesday.

"We knocked down the flames at about 8:30, 9 o'clock last night, with hard work from the ground troops and air assets," he said.

When the fire started, around 3 p.m., the wind, which was gusting about 25 miles per hour, carried the flames across Highway 26, to the hills behind Eagle Crossing Restaurant. The fire blew up along Jackson Trail Road, and threatened the Greeley Heights subdivision, just south of the Warm Springs K-8 Academy.

By 5:30 p.m., a Level 3 evacuation notice — which means "Go" — had been issued for the Greeley Heights area along Jefferson Street, all the way to the water tower road. Other areas of Greeley Heights were under a Level 2 notice — meaning they should "Be Set" to go.

Within the hour, the Red Cross had opened a shelter at the Warm Springs Community Center, to accommodate families and individuals affected by the evacuation notice.

Tuesday, Greeley Heights had returned to a Level 1 evacuation notice, which means to "Be Ready."

On Monday, Warm Springs Fire Management made use of three helicopters, which scooper water out of the Deschutes River, and one large airtanker, which dropped retardant to protect the neighborhood.

"Today, we have outside resources, four hotshot crews (with 20 people each)," said Leonard on Tuesday. "(Warm Springs) Fire and Safety has engines at Warm Springs Composites and Greeley Heights."

Highway 26 was reopened at 9 p.m. July 2.

"The fire started by the mill and burned trees and brush right by the highway," said Leonard, acknowledging that the fire could have been smoldering in wood piles near the mill, which caused the Mill Fire earlier this year. "The cause is still under investigation."

Thanks to their aggressive attack on Monday, the crews had made substantial progress by Tuesday morning. "They're mopping up all the way around the fire," he said.

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