- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

BEND, Ore. (AP) - Firefighters trying to put out an early-season wildfire in central Oregon were assisted by rain showers and low winds on Thursday, and a plane used in the battle blew a tire while landing, causing the regional airport to temporarily close.

Disruptions at the Redmond airport were minimal while the plane was removed from the runway, said airport operations manager Winton Platt. He said no one was injured in the incident.

Airtankers were being used to drop fire retardant to prevent afternoon winds from pushing the flames past containment lines toward homes on the north end of the 1,930-acre fire, the Oregon Department of Forestry said on its Facebook page. Light rain produced higher humidity and favorable conditions for firefighters, who were using bulldozers and hand tools to fight the so-called Akawana fire north of Sisters and near Lake Billy Chinook, the department said.

Authorities said Thursday evening the blaze was 44 percent contained two days after it started.

About 900 homes are still considered threatened and residents must be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice, the forestry department said.

“The winds here have subsided quite a bit,” department spokesman Tom Fields said Thursday morning over the phone from a staging area in Sisters. “Yesterday, winds were greater than 20 miles per hour.”

Some 550 firefighters and support staff were working on the fire, backed by helicopters dropping water on the flames, forestry officials said.

On Friday, crews expect to mop up hot spots from containment lines into the interior and strengthen lines on the northeast corner of the fire.

Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday authorized firefighters and equipment from around Oregon to fight the wildfire.

Fields said that because of cooler conditions and the snowpack, the 2016 fire season had been expected to start later.

“This is the first major fire of the season,” Fields said. “It is much earlier than expected.”

Lightning sparked the blaze Tuesday and it was spread by strong winds. Downed trees, some killed by beetles, added fuel to the fire.

The Department of Environmental Quality urged residents in central and southern Oregon to limit their exposure to smoke by keeping windows and doors closed.

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