Investigators determine Penninger fire started near a transient camp

Central Point, Ore. — By 10 Tuesday night, the Penninger Fire by the Jackson County Expo was 100% contained.

It burned 97 acres in total.

Detectives are still investigating the cause of the fire, but they do know it started near a transient camp at the Bear Creek Greenway and they believe it was human-caused.

Meanwhile, fire crews have spent the day assessing the damage to nearby properties.

“I was scared. I mean it’s pretty surreal,” Central Point resident Elena Gealon said.

Central Point resident Elena Gealon was sent into a panic after finding out her home could soon be in flames Tuesday afternoon.

“My husband was calling me saying that we’re trying to get everything out, they’re telling us we’re gonna have to evacuate, the fire’s heading toward us, it jumped the creek,” Gealon said.

Pushed by wind, the Penninger fire was racing toward her property that’s filled with orchards from the former Beebe Farms.

Several trees were lost, and smudge pots started exploding sending black smoke into the air.

But then, the fire changed course.

“Suddenly the wind shifted and it headed over towards Biddle and the field over in front of us,” Gealon said.

According to Fire District 3, Chief Bob Horton the unpredictable behavior of the flames spurred evacuations for anyone living within a 2-mile radius of the expo.

“You get high heat, you get it into the fuels… The wind starts to move it… The fire goes quickly,” Fire Chief Bob Horton said.

So quick, that another Central Point resident who lives near Brookdale Drive only had enough time to spray his home with water before evacuating.

“I thought the house was gonna catch on fire. So I grabbed a couple things like my wallet, and a couple pairs of clothes and stuff,” Central Point resident Nicholas Rogers said.

His house was spared, but unfortunately his garage was a total loss.

It was one among four other out-buildings that were destroyed.

And while three homes were damaged, Fire Chief Horton says it could have been a lot worse had it not been for the efficient work of everyone involved.

“I appreciate the collaboration and coordination between public safety agencies and the fire service and in law enforcement. Everybody responded remarkably to this event and because of that we were able to limit the loss to where it was at,” Fire Chief Horton said.

The fires that come with the summer season may ravage communities, but those who are impacted have been able to remain strong and stick together.

“I have a new respect for fire though and a real compassion for Hornbrook and anyone who has had to deal with it because it’s terrifying… It’s really scary,” Gealon said.

Anyone with information to help in the investigation is encouraged to contact the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 541-774-8333.

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