Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Jayson Jacoby


and Chris Collins


A wildfire that broke out early Saturday threatened homes and other buildings in the Oxbow area of eastern Baker County before firefighters from several agencies corralled the flames.

The Hunsaker fire, named for a creek of that name, burned about 700 acres of grass and brush on the Oregon side of Hells Canyon Reservoir, said Renae Crippen, manager of the Blue Mountain Interagency Dispatch Center in La Grande.

Oxbow is about 68 miles east of Baker City.

Investigators are still searching for the cause of the blaze, Crippen said.

It was not sparked by lightning, she said.

Lightning later on Saturday and early Sunday did ignite about 10 fires - most of them smaller than one acre - mainly on the north side of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

Dixie Taylor was sleeping outside on the deck of her home just north of Oxbow when she was awakened by the smell of smoke at 3 o'clock Saturday morning.

Smoke from surrounding fires has inundated Hells Canyon at times this summer, but this was different, Taylor said.

She looked up the hill to see flames covering the horizon about 100 yards from her home. After immediately calling 9-1-1, Taylor said she summoned family members and friends to begin the effort of protecting her property, which sits on a hill between Oxbow and Homestead.

"About 10 of us went up there with shovels and made a fire line," she said.

They worked by flashlights in the darkness of early morning, cutting trees, raking gravel and digging a trench.

She also has a pump in the reservoir connected to a sprinkler line that she activated to protect her property, she said.

More help arrived a short time later in the form of volunteers with the Eagle and Pine Valley fire departments and crews with the Forest Service and Idaho Power Co.

Firefighters were able to stop the fire on the south side of her single-wide mobile home with water, and the fire line she and her family and friends had built kept the blaze from coming down the hillside toward her home.

The line that delivers water from a spring above her home was burned in the fire and she was working to repair that today, she said.

Taylor, an Oxbow resident for 50 years, said this is the second time fire has threatened her home in the last six years.

The Foster Gulch fire in July 2006 also damaged her water line, but spared her home.

The area charred by that blaze gave firefighters an assist Saturday, as it served as a sort of firebreak, Crippen said.

Firefighters were still working to mop up the fire, which was doused by water dipped from the reservoir by helicopter, Taylor said.

She expressed her appreciation to the firefighters for their efforts in protecting her property.

"They're my heroes," she said.

Ric Bobier, Idaho Power Co. regional manager, who also lives at Oxbow, said the fire burned through some power lines, but measures were taken to protect service and there was no power outage.

"We were protecting our structures and our people," Bobier said, including Taylor, whose family members work for Idaho Power and who has been "a great neighbor" over the years. The homes of two employees who live downstream also could have been in danger had crews not stopped the fire when they did, he said.

Trap club structures built by Idaho Power Co. employees just above the Idaho Power Co. airstrip near Taylor's home also were threatened at one point, but they were not damaged by the fire, Bobier said.