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Wildfire burns on reservation; communities evacuated

WARM SPRINGS — A fire tore through dry grass and brush on an Indian reservation in Oregon and burned several old, unoccupied buildings as it grew to 53 square miles on Friday.

Fire officials said several small communities have been evacuated.

A Red Cross Shelter has been set up at the Warm Springs Community Center, but no evacuees were staying there yet, center employee Sophia Suppah said. The Red Cross has set up cots, and it has food and first aid equipment ready, Suppah said.

The fire got the attention of Gov. Kate Brown, who announced the state fire marshal is mobilizing resources to help protect buildings. The fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation started Tuesday Aug. 8 on adjacent private property. Firefighters using two helicopters, three dozers and 16 fire engines have the blaze only 4 percent contained.

About 105 structures are currently threatened, including those at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and a nearby fish hatchery, Brown said in a statement. However, employees at the resort said over the phone that they were only under a level one evacuation level, which means people should be aware of the danger and monitor emergency services websites and local media for information. They said the sky was smoky, but they noted that it has been that way for over a week from other fires in the area and in Canada.

The cause of the fire was listed as human in the official incident report, though authorities haven't announced the cause yet.

On Thursday, large plumes of smoke appeared every 20 minutes or so as the fire torched trees, The Bulletin newspaper reported. Ash sporadically fell from the sky like snow in the 104-degree heat.

Wildfire is a fact of summer life on the reservation and in much of Oregon. But Elizabeth Simtustus, whose house was included in an evacuation notice, said this is more dangerous than the standard Warm Springs blaze.

"The other ones weren't as close to houses as this has been," she said.

Despite the threat, she and many residents decided to stay put — at least for now — rather go to the shelter.

"It's my family home," she said. "I'm the third generation to live in that house. I was born in that house. I don't want to see it burned up just like that."