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MailTribune.com
  • Residents evacuated as crews fight fire

    500-acre fire near Williams forces residents to evacuate
  • Mikell Nielsen could do little but hope her 100-year-old home along Powell Creek Road would be spared by a wildfire that charred nearly 500 acres in Williams on Friday afternoon.
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  • Mikell Nielsen could do little but hope her 100-year-old home along Powell Creek Road would be spared by a wildfire that charred nearly 500 acres in Williams on Friday afternoon.
    "I did become hysterical at one point," Nielsen said, nursing a bottle of Angry Orchard Hard Cider in her front yard in the evening after crews gained control of the blaze. "But these firefighters did such an amazing job here today. It sounds corny, but they were heroes."
    The flames reached Nielsen's mailbox but did not reach the home. Fire crews from across Southern Oregon rushed to Williams after the early reports that a fire had started near Pacifica, a nature center with a botanical garden and arts center at 14615 Watergap Road.
    The fast-moving flames raced through a stand of trees and some high grass, crossed Powell Creek Road and crept toward Williams Highway, ODF spokesman Brian Ballou said.
    Josephine and Jackson county sheriff's deputies shut off access to the area, causing a bottle neck to develop at the Provolt Store.
    Around 50 people who lived in the fire zone were forced to wait in the store's parking lot as emergency crews pushed toward the burning trees and brush.
    Brooke Thompson had taken a swim and was on her way to her home on Woody Acres Drive, which sits off Watergap Road, when she was stopped at the store and told she could go no further.
    "It was a little nerve wracking, but you have to let the firefighters do what they have to do and stay out of the way," Thompson said.
    Despite their best efforts, at least one home was destroyed and several outbuildings and vehicles succumbed to the flames, Ballou said.
    "There for a while it was fairly chaotic," Ballou said. "The fire was moving quickly in several directions and there are a lot of houses up here."
    Four air tankers dropped flame retardant and five helicopters flung water from buckets into the heart of the fire throughout the afternoon. The air attack was supported by fire crews on the ground working in the upper-90s heat to dig lines around the fire's edges.
    In all, around 75 homes in the region were evacuated, Ballou said.
    "The people in the area did a good job of getting out of the fire's way," he said.
    Two firefighters received injuries, one of heat exhaustion and the other experienced chest pains. Ballou said both were treated for these injuries.
    Crews managed to corral around 75 percent of the fire by 7:30 p.m. Overnight teams were expected to work the scene until morning.
    The fire prompted Gov. John Kitzhaber to make a conflagration order, which authorizes crews from other counties to head to Williams to help battle the fire.
    Agencies from Lane and Linn counties were on standby Friday and were prepared to provide support if needed, Ballou said.
    Neighbors along Powell Creek Road began checking up on each other as the fire threat receded. Yards and pastures on each side of the road were blackened and flames crackled in several trees as the sun began to set.
    Nielsen's three dogs, three cats and two goats survived the blaze. She spent the late afternoon sitting in her yard with her bottle of hard cider. She put the bottle down to give a line of firefighters walking along the road a round of applause.
    "I wanted them to know how much I appreciated their work," she said. "This was people just coming together to help each other out."
    A few of the firefighters tipped the caps of their hard hats to Nielsen and continued down the road to another hot spot.
    Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.
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