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80,000-acre Substation Fire now 44% contained, all evacuation notices reduced to level 2

An airplane drops fire retardant on the Substation Fire Thursday, July 19, 2018. (KATU Photo)

Fire officials say crews made significant progress on the now 80,763-acre Substation Fire in Central Oregon Friday, and that they're making even better progress Saturday with firefighters putting the "final touches" on containment.

Despite growth, the fire is now 44 percent contained and all Level 3 (GO) evacuation areas have been reduced to level 2 (be ready), which means people can now access the Deschutes River. Officials warn that residents in evacuation zones should continue to remain vigilant, as they could be asked to leave at a moment's notice.

Speaking at a Saturday morning press conference in Moro, Governor Kate Brown warned of a "very difficult fire season," that's begun three to four weeks earlier than usual.

WATCH: Officials release new details on Substation Fire at Saturday morning press conference

Strong winds caused the Substation Fire to grow significantly Thursday night and Friday morning, jumping from 50,000 to more than 70,000 acres during that time period.

Crews are beginning to shift from firefighting to evaluating and assessing the damage. So far, officials have confirmed that four homes have been destroyed, another four damaged and several outbuildings have burned down.

With the progress made overnight the majority of out-of-town firefighters headed home.

"In Portland we don't fight standing wheat fires, it's a completely different type of animal," said Eric Pederson, a captain with the Portland Fire Bureau's Fire Station 22.

Their reprieve back at home may be short. Crews are always on call, fires can pop up, and some of the firefighters say there have already been hints that some of them will be sent to tackle wildfires in Southern Oregon.

"We're just kind of expecitng more of the same," said Brent Sheldon, a Portland firefighter. "I mean the weather conditions just keep getting hotter and drier. Kind of all the time, as soon as we get home we're thinking about the next one."

The Wasco County Sheriff's Office is asking residents not to clean up their properties that were burned by the fire. Investigators want to assess the damage by speaking to residents and by taking photographs. The sheriff's office is asking that estimated financial losses be reported as well.

The Oregon Department of Consumer & Business Services said Friday that almost half of the crop in Wasco County is estimated to have been destroyed by the fire. It encouraged farmers to contact their crop insurance agent as soon as possible. The federal crop insurance program requires claims to be filed within 72 hours of a loss.

"If you have crop damage as a result of the fire, do not destroy the crop until the insurance company confirms it is ok to do so," Oregon state officials said in a news release.

Locals say this is the worst fire behavior they've ever seen.

As of Saturday morning, 307 personnel from across the country were working the lines of the fire that has killed one person, destroyed structures and burned through crops, grass and forestland. Personnel are working 24 hours a day to strengthen containment lines.

There is a temporary flight restriction in place within the fire’s perimeter. That means any aircraft that is not helping suppress the fire is not allowed to fly through the air in that area.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Wasco County Sheriff Lane McGill said he couldn’t divulge any information about the criminal investigation for fear of compromising it. But the sheriff's office said it was "incendiary in nature." State police have set up a tip line for anyone who knows anything about how the fire started. That number is 800-452-7888.

The sheriff’s office Thursday identified the man who died in the fire. John Ruby, 64, a longtime resident of Wasco County, was working to protect his neighbor’s property with a tractor when he succumbed to the fire.

The Mid-Columbia Center for Living has a hotline available for anyone who needs someone to talk with. That number is 1-888-877-9147.

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