Golden Fire in southern Oregon burns dozens of homes and cuts 911 service

Jul 25, 2023, 5:22 PM

BONANZA, Ore. (AP) — A wildfire that started over the weekend in southern Oregon has burned dozens of homes and caused area residents to lose 911 service and internet, state officials said Tuesday.

The Oregon State Fire Marshal said preliminary damage assessments from the Golden Fire east of Klamath Falls showed that 43 residences near the town of Bonanza were destroyed. More than 40 outbuildings were also consumed by fire.

The fire marshal said most of the structures are believed to have burned Saturday, when the fire started and spread rapidly in hot weather and gusty winds. Crews were unable to access the structures before Tuesday because of unsafe conditions, the fire marshal said.

Sherry Booth told KATU-TV that she lost her home to the fire.

She said she was in town when she got a call saying the fire was headed toward it.

“They were closing everything off, but we know a back way in so we did get to the house,” she said. “We had to go try to save our animals, and the cops were at the house and they were just telling us to grab our animals, go, go, go.”

By the time Booth returned home, her house was engulfed in flames.

“I did have insurance,” she said. “We’re going to see what we can do, what they have to say.”

The fire also significantly damaged a fiber optic line affecting most of the 8,200 residents in neighboring Lake County, causing a loss of 911 service, internet and phone service. The Lake County Board of Commissioners declared a state of emergency Monday because of the outage and said an estimate for restoring the line wasn’t yet known.

911 calls were being rerouted to Klamath County, and county emergency officials have been working with multiple state agencies to restore emergency connections, the commissioners said in statement. Temporary internet towers have also been put up and are providing services, commissioners said.

Fire crews also have been coordinating with utility companies that are working to repair damaged infrastructure, fire officials said Tuesday.

“Our hearts go out to the Bonanza community and those affected by the Golden Fire,” said Matt Howard, Oregon Department of Forestry Team 2 incident commander. “Our job now is to fully suppress this fire so the recovery process can begin.”

As of Tuesday morning, the blaze had burned about 3.2 square miles (8.3 square kilometers) and was 9% contained.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, the Klamath County Sheriff’s office said. According to initial information, the blaze may have started on private property being used to grow marijuana illegally, law enforcement officials said.

Crews have made progress on the fire, holding it within its original footprint, although high potential exists for the fire to keep growing because of heat, high winds and available fuel, officials said.

Some mandatory evacuations were lowered Tuesday, but several hundred homes are still impacted by evacuations at all levels, officials said. A shelter remained open and served more than 80 people over Saturday and Sunday nights, according to the state fire marshal.

An air quality advisory also remains in effect for the central and southern parts of Oregon into at least Wednesday night because of the Bedrock Fire burning between Eugene and Bend and the Flat Fire burning in southwest Oregon.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson Laura Gleim said air quality levels will vary between unhealthy and hazardous, improving at times during the day then getting worse overnight, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

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Golden Fire in southern Oregon burns dozens of homes and cuts 911 service