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Wildfires Scorch 350,000 acres; Destroy Guru’s Vacant Mansion

August 15, 1996

ANTELOPE, Ore. (AP) _ One of dozens of wildfires sweeping across the West destroyed a mansion that once belonged to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, whose religious commune nearly took over this community in the early 1980s.

More than 350,000 acres have burned this week, including a 24,000-acre fire that swept through a 35-home subdivision Wednesday on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in the Cascade mountains, and the range fire that hit the abandoned Rajneeshpuram commune.

The Rajneesh’s house was destroyed Monday and many residents, who resented the guru and his thousands of followers, weren’t sorry to see it go.

``It’s like the fire picked the house,″ said Lonnie Maulding, who manages the Big Muddy ranch, which includes the compound where the guru known for his gold bracelets and collection of Rolls Royces once lived. ``It’s nothing but twisted metal and melted glass.″

Maulding and his son tried to fight the fire before five volunteer firefighters from nearby Antelope arrived, despite lingering resentments over the home’s former owner.

``It’s a working ranch. It’s not the Bhagwan anymore,″ firefighter Al Campbell said. ``It just happened to have an airstrip, condos and a shopping mall.″

In Warm Springs, about 90 miles southeast of Portland, at least 50 homes were evacuated.

``We hosed it down and have a pretty good perimeter,″ Walter Langnese, a Warm Springs tribal judge said before the fire came.

Firefighting forces have been stretched to the limit, with Nevada authorities summoning crews from New England and aerial tankers from Alaska.

A 45,000-acre blaze in Hells Canyon near the Oregon-Idaho border was expected to be contained by Saturday, but lack of manpower was hurting efforts to control an 18,000-acre fire in northern Idaho.

An 8,420-acre fire in the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California was 50 percent contained.

Favorable weather stalled a 2,700 acre forest fire near Neihart, Mont., and firefighters were being sent home from a wind-spurred weekend wildfire that destroyed eight homes and burned 3,020 acres northwest of Spokane, Wash.

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