By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
The breeze that blew through the Pleasant Valley area Monday afternoon brought some relief from the 90-degree heat, but hampered firefighters in their efforts to extinguish a 10-acre sage and grass fire.
The fire was reported about 2 p.m. by an Oregon State Police trooper patrolling the area. It burned a triangular piece of ground between the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and the freeway, about 10 miles south of Baker City.
The wind was helpful in keeping a fire that started about the same time away from buildings at the Baker City Municipal Airport. About five acres of sage and grass burned on airport property, according to Baker City Fire Chief Tim Frost. The cause of the fire, which started near the runway on the southeast end of the airport, is undetermined, Frost said.
The city sent one engine and the Baker Rural Fire Protection District sent an engine and two other vehicles to the scene, Frost said. Twelve firefighters worked at the scene for about two hours.
The Vale office of the Bureau of Land Management dispatched five engines, a helicopter and a single-engine plane to fight the fire between Encina and Pleasant Valley, according to Tracy Skerjanec, assistant fire management officer. The state Department of Forestry also sent an engine to the scene.
Interstate 84 traffic was stopped for about 15 minutes because of the blaze.
The helicopter dropped 80-gallon bucketsful of water from a nearby source and retardant was dropped from the plane, Skerjanec said.
The cause of the fire had not been determined by this morning and remains under investigation, Skerjanec said. It is thought to be human caused, he added. The cost of the firefighting effort is estimated at $8,000 to $10,000. That includes the use of the helicopter at $453 per hour and the plane at $850 per hour.
Should the investigation lead to the person responsible, he or she would be billed for the cost of the suppression effort, Skerjanec said.
Each engine and the helicopter were manned by three people, he said. The crews continued mopping up the area until about 11 p.m.
Because of the hot weather and dry conditions, they worked until all hot spots were out so that there were no flareups, Skerjanec said. Two engines returned to the fire scene today as an added precaution.