A fire that allegedly started in a transient camp near Reservoir Hill in Roseburg was extinguished Monday afternoon before the blaze was able to spread rapidly through the surrounding fields of dry grass, according to fire officials.
At approximately 1:51 p.m., fire crews received a report of smoke coming from the hill near Deer Creek Park in northeast Roseburg, which runs along the banks of the South Umpqua River. Crews from the Roseburg Fire Department and the Douglas Forest Protective Association responded to the area with some emergency vehicles accessing the fire by driving underneath the Stephens Street bridge and onto the pedestrian path via Northwest Rowe Street.
Roseburg Fire Chief Gregg Timm said crews were able to contain the fire primarily to the area where it originated.
“There’s some green up on the hill so we were able to catch the fire before it started to really break out,” he said. “If the fire had started in the dry grass, it would have advanced much quicker and climbed the hill much faster.”
Timm said engines from the city’s department were deployed to protect the structures in the area, but firefighters from both the city and the DFPA were able to extinguish the flames before any were threatened. He said the fire was moving north while many of the houses in the area were east of the blaze.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation; however, Timm said the fire originated from what appeared to be a “full-out shelter” likely associated with transients who live in the area.
“I didn’t see the site, but we were told that there’s been in excess of 50 people living up there,” he said.
About a quarter acre of land was charred by the fire and much of the camp was burnt or destroyed.
“Obviously we want to start talking about fire prevention because while this fire didn’t go very far, it wouldn’t have taken much longer because that grass was pretty dry,” Timm said. “And it’s pretty dang early in the year.”
He warned that fire conditions are changing and that the potential for increased fire risks are becoming much higher — especially in areas with large swaths of dry grass.
During a staff meeting held just hours before Monday’s fire, Timm said the department was discussing adding a fire break toward the top of Reservoir Hill to help prevent the spread of future fires.
“I’ve been here about 30 years and it seems that about every year that hill would burn,” he said. “But it seems like — knock on wood — in the last few years it hasn’t.”
But that may change as temperatures in the area continue to rise. On Monday, temperatures in Roseburg hit 90 degrees, just 3 degrees shy of the record which was set in 1946, according to the National Weather Service.
“There’s a concern every year, but I think there’s a little more of a heightened concern this year,” Timm said.