THE BEND BULLETIN/PHOTOTerry “Mike” Harper stands at his property after the Darlene Fire.

LA PINE – Residents in and around La Pine on July 16 have since returned to their homes after the Darlene Fire ravaged the surrounding countryside.

But for some, it was not a welcoming sight. 

Like for former longtime Creswell resident Terry “Mike” Harper, 72, who moved away from Creswell four years ago, with a dream that one day he would live totally “off the grid.”

People over the decades may remember seeing Harper hanging out at the old Dairy Queen – which stands where Bill Spencer’s 76 gas station convenient mart is located now on Oregon Avenue – where his group of friends often had coffee and chatted in the mornings. A graduate of Creswell High, he worked at the former Bald Knob mill site and was employed as a log truck driver. 

Creswell resident Sue Hansen, Harper’s children’s mother, said people may remember Harper for his adventurous spirit; he always enjoyed hunting, fishing and being outdoors, so much so that “his dream was to live off the grid, have a cabin and just live free.” 

About three and a half years ago he made that dream come true.

He put all his money into bringing his vision to life, pouring his resources into purchasing 10 acres in Central Oregon, where he “built a little cabin and had a nice shop full of all of his equipment, tools, everything he worked the land with,” Hansen said. 

Foraged from his own land, he made the structures that burned to the ground. If you had visited his home just a few weeks ago, you would have seen a beautifully handmade wooden gazebo, a well-constructed fire pit, and other “man-made pieces of artwork” that he took great pride in, she said.  

According to the Prineville District Bureau of Land Management, the Darlene Fire – about 100 miles east of South Lane – was reported on private lands on July 13 near Darlene Way. At press time, the fire consumed 686 acres and was 95% contained. The fire is expected to continue to smolder within containment lines, though emergency personnel expect no additional spread.

The fire crept into Harper’s property, and while it spared his tiny home, the remaining structures and equipment are left charred and blackened.

He had enough of a warning before the fire reached him that he was able to get himself, his two kittens, and his dog out of the area. 

He went back to the scene the next day and he stood there shocked at the devastation. The fire marshal allowed him to stay on the property because he had access to water in case an ember floated onto the roof of his home and he had to act fast. 

Harper was planning to leave the property – his legacy – to his daughters Stacey Ames and Wendy Bastiaen, Hansen said. Now he is left with the daunting and tumultuous task of rebuilding from the ground up. A fundraiser, “Homeless and Devastated,” a GoFundMe page, has been established to aid with costs of rebuilding, with a goal of $20,000.