Fire erupted near the Mitchell area on Monday prompting evacuations and highway closures throughout the the past week

Prineville resident Tina Greiner was returning home from Mitchell on Monday when she caught a glimpse of the newly-erupted Bailey Butte Fire.

She had noticed little spot fires and plumes of smoke, but this one caught her attention.

“It was black – really black smoke,” she said. “When we pulled up alongside it, the trailhead right at the top of the mountain, we could see big flames and trees were on fire.”

Greiner managed to make it back to Prineville before the wildfire spread and engulfed both side of U.S. Highway 26, about 10 miles west of Mitchell. By Monday evening, the Oregon Department of Transportation had closed an approximately four-mile stretch of the highway.

Later that evening, Kim Woodward was returning to Prineville from Mitchell, and was escorted by her father-in-law, who was fighting the fire, through the portion of closed highway. She and her 12-year-old daughter were astounded by what they saw.

“It was enormous. It was intense,” she said. “(My daughter) said she felt like she was in another world. It was pretty smoky and really dark, and the flames were arcing. The ground was just a boiling pot of flames.”

The Bailey Butte Fire prompted evacuation of about 11 residents in the Mitchell area as well as some campgrounds on Monday and caused American Red Cross to set up a shelter for displaced individuals. Some people spent the night in the shelter, said Paula Negele, communications director for Red Cross’ Cascade Region.

By Tuesday afternoon, the Bailey Butte Fire had grown to about 1,000 acres, while two other fires, Toney Butte (about 1,200 acres) and Junction Spring (30 acres), burned nearby. Their size and proximity prompted a state-based Type II Incident Management Team to take over the fires, which were at that time named the Waterman Complex.

As of Thursday morning, ODOT had not yet reopened Highway 26, and it was expected to stay closed for an undetermined period of time as trees were removed from the roadway. Crystal Springs campground was evacuated on Wednesday, Pastor Daniel Parker, whose Missionary Baptist Church rents the Crystal Springs space out to families, was told on Wednesday that the fire would arrive at the campground by mid-afternoon.

“We got all of our trailers out this morning,” he said. “Nobody is there and it is all locked up.”

On Thursday morning, the Crook County Sheriff's Office had issued a Level 3 evacuation notice for the Marks Creek area between the former Mt. Bachelor Academy facility and Forest Road 2630. County law enforcement resources were dispatched shortly after the notice to help with the evacuation effort.

According to a report issued Thursday morning by the Oregon Department of Forestry, 28 percent of the perimeter of the Waterman Complex were contained.

Resources assigned to the Waterman Complex as of Wednesday included 20 crews, 482 personnel, 15 engines, three water tenders, six bulldozers, and one helicopter. All three fires are believed to be lightning caused.

A new American Red Cross shelter was set up at Crook County High School for evacuated residents on Thursday.

In addition to the Waterman Complex, two fires started in the Post and Paulina area. As of Thursday, the Center Fire, three miles northeast of Post had reached 1,500 acres and was about 25 percent contained. The Oscar Canyon Fire, 17 miles east of Post was 315 acres and 40 percent contained.

Due to the prevalence of wildfires throughout Oregon, Gov. John Kitzhaber has declared a State of Emergency for wildfire activity. The declaration enables the Oregon National Guard to mobilize resources on an as-needed basis to assist the Department of Forestry, State Fire Marshal's Office and firefighters.

"Oregon is facing a severe fire season," Kitzhaber said. "Conditions are dry and new fires are starting daily."

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