Firefighters douse blaze in brush near Pleasant Valley Bridge

A fire, which investigators suspect may have started in a transient camp, burned nearly half an acre on the bluff between the railroad tracks and the South Santiam River, just west of the White’s Park Friday evening.

Personnel from Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance and the Oregon Department of Forestry responded just after 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3, to find heavy brush burning west of the park.

SHFAD Battalion Chief Eli Harris said he could see the smoke as he left the fire station and called a first alarm to get trucks rolling.

He said he encountered three men coming out of the brush when he arrived at the scene, one of whom said he’d been a former wildland firefighter.

“He helped me; he led me to the right trails,” Harris said.

“From the railroad side I could see it was a about half an acre and going into the trees, through the moss.”

SHFAD dispatched two brush rigs, an engine, a medic unit and a tender, with eight personnel, Harris said.

Craig Wilson of the ODF said his agency sent five trucks with 12 firefighters to the scene.

Flames were visible in the brush above the rock face descending to the river and firefighters had trouble accessing some of those areas, Wilson said.

“It was really dense brush and ivy – tough stuff that the fire likes to get into and not go out very well,” he said. Also, there were dead tag oak trees that were burning, which firefighters had to fall, he added.

Firefighters cut a fire line around the blaze and lay hose around it.

“We kind of knocked its flanks out,” Wilson said.

Harris said firefighters had the blaze contained and under control by about 7:30 p.m.

A caller reported more smoke about 6:30 a.m. Saturday, so ODF firefighters responded again and sprayed down the area, Wilson said.

The fire occurred right within the ODF’s protective boundaries, he noted.

The cause is still under investigation, Wilson said.

“It could have been anything – smoking, cooking. We didn’t necessarily find the exact cause.”

Harris said it was “pretty obviously being used as an illegal camping site.”

ODF also responded Saturday evening to another brush fire outside Brownsville that burned two acres.

“Fuels are really dry right now,” Wilson said Monday, noting that day was the anniversary of the windstorm that caused last year’s raging wildfires.

Wilson added that no precipitation is expected for at least another week or two.

“This is pretty critical fire weather.”