PRAIRIE CITY — Prairie City residents suffered through some scary moments Saturday as the Canyon Creek Complex fire, fanned by high winds, bore down on the city and evacuation orders were issued for parts of the town.
But fire crews stopped the blaze about 1.5 miles south of the city, and the town is now in a much safer position, fire officials told local residents attending a community meeting Sunday evening.
Firefighters gained a foothold against the fire Saturday morning as it approached Prairie City, but the fire came back with a vengeance in the afternoon and made a second run at the city, said Jeff Surber, Great Basin Incident Management Team operations chief.
Firefighters held again, and there is now a sizable buffer of burnt grassland between the city and the northern part of the blaze, Surber told dozens of people gathered at Prairie City’s grange hall.
“The work that was done there has really set up a pretty good buffer that could keep the rest of the fire from your community,” said Jim Walker, Oregon state fire marshal and incident commander.
The area south of town where the fire threatened the city Saturday is now a burned-out black spot, and while the threat of the fire reaching the city isn’t gone, it is significantly less than what it was prior to the incident, said Prairie City Fire Chief Marvin Rynearson.
“It was a tense moment,” he said. “But that puts the community in a lot better shape than it was the day before. Everyone can rest a little better.”
The parts of Prairie City that were put under a Level 3 “leave immediately” evacuation order Saturday were lowered to a Level 2 “be ready to leave at a moment’s notice” evacuation order Saturday afternoon.
Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer said he would probably leave all of Prairie City on a Level 2 evacuation order until fire season is over, as a precaution.
“I’d rather everybody be ready, just in case,” he said.
The fire had reached 104,576 acres as of Sunday evening, and 43 residences have been destroyed. Another 50 structures were damaged by the blaze.
The fire is 49 percent contained, and 952 personnel are fighting it.
Cooler temperatures and precipitation are expected later in the week, and the weather is starting to turn in firefighters’ favor, said incident meteorologist Terry Lebo.
“We’re definitely into a better location as far as the weather is concerned,” he said.
Beth Lund, Great Basin Incident Management Team incident commander, said fire officials have received a lot of calls from Canyon Creek residents who are seeing things burning on the hillsides and feel abandoned because they don’t see fire crews in the area.
Lund said some smaller engines are patrolling the area, looking for trouble spots, and she assured people fire officials are monitoring the area.
“We’re keeping an eye on that, and we’re also keeping an eye on it from the air,” she said.