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At the same time as the Willow Fire, firefighters conduct a successful controlled burn near Ashwood.

PHOTO BY TOM BROWN - Boats beach in a shallow area of Lake Simtustus on Saturday, as boaters watch a Chinook helicopter drpping water to fight the Willow Fire.Four days after it started near Northwest Pelton Dam Road, the 428-acre Willow Fire was declared fully contained Tuesday morning.

The fire, which was believed to be human-caused, was reported at 5:34 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 7, southeast of Lake Simtustus Resort.

"It started near the top of Willow Canyon, on BLM land, burned onto unprotected land, then back onto BLM land and onto Jefferson County Fire-protected land," said Jefferson County Fire District Chief Brian Huff, who was one of the first on the scene.

"We called in two task forces to help with structure protection," said Huff, who spent Friday night working on the fire. "The closest home was probably half a mile away; everything we did was precautionary."

Each of the task forces had five apparatus and two to three firefighters per truck. "We had 19 people from our agency," said Huff. "From Central Oregon, we had just about every fire organization represented."

"There were decent winds, but they were heading straight down the canyon toward Madras," he said, noting that it was burning in sagebrush, juniper and cheatgrass. "It got as far as Dry Canyon, and that's where we stopped it."

Brandi Danison, dispatcher for Central Oregon Dispatch, added that the 20-person Prineville Hotshots also responded, and the firefighting effort was supported by helicopters with water buckets and single-engine air tankers.

Northwest Pelton Dam Road turns into Northwest Elk Drive at the top of the canyon, and both were closed to traffic Friday evening to allow firefighters to respond.

"Lake Simtustus RV Park was placed on a level 3 (evacuation notice), but had already cleared out prior to the order," said Marc Heckathorn, undersheriff for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.

Residents on Elk Drive were warned to get ready to evacuate, as the fire spread to the south, and even crossed Elk Drive, on its way toward Dry Canyon. However, firefighters were able to keep the fire from crossing Willow Creek, and threatening residences to the east of Simtustus.

No structures were lost in the fire, and all evacuation orders were lifted on Sunday morning, when the fire was at 40 percent containment. By 8 p.m. Sunday evening, containment had increased to 60 percent, as crews worked to mop up in the canyon's steep and rocky terrain.

On Tuesday, the cause of the fire was still under investigation, according to Danison, who expected crews to remain on the fire mopping up for the next few days.

Ashwood controlled burn

PHOTO BY BING BINGHAM - Mike Towell, of Antelope, keeps an eye on a controlled burn at Richardson's Ranch on Saturday, Sept. 8, when the Ashwood Antelope Rural Fire Protection Agency burned about 460 acres. A total of 28 people worked on the fire.
On Saturday, while the Bureau of Land Management and other Central Oregon fire agencies were fighting the Willow Fire, the Ashwood Antelope Rural Fire Protection Agency launched a successful controlled burn in the Ashwood area, which many in the area believed was a wildfire.

"There were about 460 acres burned in juniper eradication and range enhancement effort," said Bing Bingham, who assisted with the effort at Richardson's Ranch. "Twenty-eight people, friends and neighbors, were at the burn."

"Richardson Ranch used their dozer to cut a double fireline around the burn," said Bingham. "We had people in Hummers, and four-wheelers watching the fire lines all day. There were water tenders close by in case anyone ran out of water. It was a community effort ... neighbors helping neighbors."

Depending on conditions, the Ashwood Antelope Rural Fire Protection Agency conducts one to three burns per year. "The conditions we burn in are mostly dependent on the weather," he said. "If we can't make it safe, we don't do it."

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