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Elk Creek resident risks ticket to fix water pump

TRAIL ' As the Timbered Rock fire crackled and spewed burning embers a few miles from his home, Bruce Joham made the decision to do what he could to save his Elk Creek Road house. To be effective, he needed parts for a water pump.

But as the 55-year-old blacksmith returned from Shady Cove Hardware with &

36;8 worth of hose fittings late Monday afternoon, he was stopped by a deputy at Highway 62 and Elk Creek Road.

She said I couldn't go in. I said, 'I'm sorry, I'm going anyway,' Joham said. A couple of deputies stepped in front of me, but they moved out of my way when I started driving ... which was a good idea, because they can't really stop a Dodge.

He went to his house about a third of a mile up the road, started work on the pump and got a visitor. A deputy handed him a ticket for failure to obey a police officer. Fine: &

36;175.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department has set up roadblocks at several points on Elk Creek Road near where the fire is burning. The fire Thursday was 20,000 acres, its overnight growth due mostly to firefighters burning out areas near fire lines to keep the fire contained.

As of Thursday, the fire was 20 percent contained, said fire information officer Howard Hunter.

The area was evacuated on Saturday and roadblocks set up to keep out sightseers, protect residents' homes, protect firefighters trying to get around and do their jobs, and save lives.

Deputies manning the roadblocks have been allowing residents to go to their homes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., but shut off access in the afternoon when winds typically pick up and have the potential of whipping smoking embers into an out-of-control blaze.

We tell homeowners they are under evacuation notice and if they decide to stay to give us their name and next-of-kin information, said Jackson County Sheriff's Capt. Ed Mayer. We make it very clear to them they are jeopardizing their lives if they stay.

Joham is the only person who has gotten a ticket for running the roadblock, Mayer said. And after talking to the deputies involved in the incident, and to Joham, Mayer said the sheriff's office will not pursue prosecution in the case.

We still believe Mr. Joham obviously violated the instructions given to him by the officer, but under the circumstances of what was going on at the time and now, as well as Mr. Joham's understanding of what he did ... I advised the court we would have no problem with the court dismissing that, Mayer said.

Justice of the Peace Bob King, reached before he had gotten the call from the captain, said if the sheriff's department did recommend dismissal of the case it would be something he would consider.

A number of people who live on Elk Creek Road say they simply drive on back roads to avoid the roadblocks. Mildred McWhorter, a 68-year-old rancher who lives a couple miles up the road from Joham, noted that when the lightening-caused fire started last month, there also was a strike near her home. She and neighbors extinguished the blaze.

Look where we would have been when that little snag burned up if we had been somewhere else ' this way we put it out and nobody lost nothing, McWhorter said. If we would have been sitting in Medford feeling sorry for ourselves, the whole country could have been on fire.

She said she understands deputies keeping out the sightseers, but I got a right to come home and protect my things.

Joham said roadblocks make it difficult for residents who choose not to evacuate to go to information meetings about the fire ' the meetings are held in the evening outside the roadblock.

It's pretty nerve-wracking when you don't know what is going on, but you have a fire-breathing dragon coming down to your house and its name is Timbered Rock, Joham said.

But Joham said he understands the need for the roadblocks and appreciates the deputies doing their jobs. Less than an hour after he got the ticket, a sheriff's lieutenant was at his home and worked it out so he could get more parts for his pump if needed.

I don't have any complaint with the sheriff's department, Joham said. But you don't want to get between me and the dinner table, and to get between me and my house is a downright dangerous occupation.

Reach reporter Dani Dodge at 776-4471, or e-mail