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Black Butte Evacuees Allowed To Return Home

Thousands of Black Butte residents breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday. At 1 p.m. firefighters announced they felt confident the fire would not spread further towards homes.

Authorities are  allowing residents to move back home Tuesday night. From Black Butte Ranch in Central Oregon, Ethan Lindsey reports.

The situation looked dire on Monday afternoon. The fire had passed two key fire lines and was within a quarter-a-mile of several homes. Winds gusted to 30 miles-per-hour. And firefighters didn't know if they'd get the manpower and resources they needed.

Faced with that, firefighters made the call. They evacuated the 1200 homes at Black Butte Ranch.

Since only about 10 percent of the homes are occupied year round, the exact number of evacuees is unknown. But authorities estimate 4000 people may have taken their pets and most important belongings — and left.

Bill Burkhart has lived at Black Butte for 14 years. This is the third time he and his wife Barbara have evacuated. They know the routine and what to pack.

Bill Burkhart: "No pets. But we took pictures, financial records, a few pieces of artwork or things. If you have time to think about it, you realize what you have that you can't easily replace."

The Red Cross set up a shelter at the Sisters Community Church, 10 miles from Black Butte. And readied for evacuees.

About 60 families registered with the shelter, and several people needed a shelter for their pets.

Then, almost as quickly as the evacuation was enforced — firefighters took the upper hand on Monday night.

After coming within spitting distance of some outlying homes at the resort community, the fire slowed. Firefighters had previously thinned the brush, which gave the fire less to burn.

Wind speeds dropped by almost 20 miles-per-hour.

And the Governor enacted the state Conflagration Act for only the second time this summer. That means the state pays  to bring more fire trucks and firefighters to the scene.  And the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to pay 75 percent of the state costs of the fire.

And finally, a dramatic late night operation. Firefighters on bulldozers cut down trees and brush along the south and east perimeter of the fire. That meant when the fire got to that line, it had no way to spread further.

Firefighter Mark Rapp is the incident commander. He says mother nature also helped the fight.

Mark Rapp: "Most of the fire area has received up to a quarter inch of rain, which has really helped us in the slowing down of the fire. Along with eight dozers that were working."

That meant on Tuesday afternoon, residents got good news at a community meeting at the shelter in Sisters.

Ed Sherrill with the Black Butte Fire Department made the announcement - crediting the firefighters for their work.

Ed Sherrill: "And with their great help, and a little help from God, we're going to let folks back on the ranch this evening."

Resident Bill Benson says like many residents he's done this before. So the news that he can return left him surprised, and still a little rattled.

Bill Benson: "They don't get routine. They surely don't. Your own bed is always more comfortable than alternatives."

Residents were reminded to remain on alert. And not to completely unpack their valuables.

Should the fire kick up again, firefighters say another evacuation could be called.

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