Firefighters curtailed two wildland blazes Wednesday that burned a barn and about 250 acres near Weston.
The first emergency call came at 1:10 p.m., according to Suzy Pyle Reitz, spokesperson for the East Umatilla County Rural Fire Protection District.
Crews got that burn under control early, according to some onlookers. But the fire torched scrub and grassland along with standing wheat fields on Weston Mountain. Police closed Highway 204 and evacuated homes on some rural roads north and east of Weston. Reitz said there were two separate fires that together burned about 250 acres.
“Both the state fire marshal and the Umatilla County fire investigator are working together to find the causes of both fires,” Reitz said.
Robert Pardee rushed to the scene, still in his work clothes from the Pendleton Walmart’s auto center, to find two Oregon State Police cars blocking access on Kirk Road. Pardee said he rents a trailer up the draw with his roommates, one of whom was home and called him about the emergency.
“Police came to the door and said you need to go,” Pardee said.
The fire burned less than a mile from the double-wide, he said, but his roommates were safe, along with their cat and two dogs. Pardee said he was only a couple of days away from getting a bulldozer working for this very reason. Three state troopers reassured him firefighters saved structures.
Pardee moved here about a year ago from Biloxi, Mississippi “to keep from getting shot at anymore.” He said wildfire was a new danger for him.
“I now know what my vehicle tops out at,” he said.
Locals walked horses down Kirk Road, away from the danger zone. Reitz said one barn was lost in the fire, but no livestock.
“There were local ranchers moving the livestock to safe locations,” she said.
One fire started within a quarter mile of a barn belonging to Preston Winn on CRP land northeast of Weston, but he said a neighbor put it out as the wind pushed it south. If the wind was blowing north, he said it could have done real damage to his property.
Reitz said multiple agencies responded to calls for aid, including Pendleton, Hermiston, Helix, Pilot Rock and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Members of the Oregon State Police and the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office kept roads clear for emergency vehicles. The Oregon Department of Forestry also provided resources, including a helicopter with a water bucket.
Two single-propeller planes circled the burn, and a larger plane dumped fire retardant on the fire. Farmers also provided key resources for the effort.
“We couldn’t have gotten this contained without them,” Reitz said.
Firefighters began heading home around 8 p.m., and the East Umatilla crew headed home about 9 p.m.. Reitz said the Oregon Department of Forestry stayed overnight to monitor the hot spots.
She also said the crews had to thank the Long Branch Cafe & Saloon in Weston for cooking burgers and other food for the firefighters.
East Oregonian news staff also contributed to this story.