Big fires bring more than 3,500 firefighters to Southern Oregon

With the five largest fires burning in Douglas and Josephine counties having grown to more than 35,000 acres, southwest Oregon now has the dubious distinction of being the nation's wildfire hot spot.

More than 3,500 firefighters from throughout Oregon and around the nation have been deployed to battle the growing blazes, fire officials said this morning.

The ground pounders are being assisted by air tankers and bucket-carrying helicopters when there is a rare break in the thick shroud of smoke blanketing the region.

"Unfortunately, we can't get a lot of aircraft up because of the smoke," observed Caitlin Goins of the Oregon Department of Forestry.

However, the smoke that is giving a headache to those planning aerial attacks on the fires is helping dampen aggressive fire behavior, she said.

"Right now, the fires are laying down with smoke," she said. "It helps fire suppression. It does sock us in, but it makes fire fighting on the ground easier."

For instance, she noted that the Labrador fire half a dozen air miles west of Selma was exhibiting only moderate behavior despite extremely dry conditions. That fire is now 1,750 acres. There are 425 firefighters on that blaze which is burning a portion of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. No portion of the fire has been contained by fire lines.

The largest of the estimated 75 fires sparked by Friday's dry lightning storm remains the Douglas Complex fire, now at 25,400 acres, Goins said. There are nearly 1,400 firefighters assigned to that fire some seven miles north of Glendale. It is 5 percent contained.

More than 100 homes have been evacuated and a pre-evacuation notice issued to more than 40 other residences, she said. Lower Cow Creek Road, Union Creek Road, West Fork Road and Lower Grave Creek Road are all closed.

Oregon Army National Guard air and ground resources are being sent to the area, she said.

Progress is being made on the 90-acre Farmers Gulch fire near Wolf Creek, she noted.

"Pretty much all the single tree hits have been mopped up," she said of lightning-caused fires on ODF protected land in the region.

Firefighters have also made some headway on the 2,000-acre Brimstone fire about 10 miles northwest of Merlin, she said, noting that fire is about 10 percent contained.

"We are going to be doing some direct and indirect firefighting on it today," she said of the nearly 800 firefighters deployed to that blaze.

The Big Windy Complex fire about 25 miles northwest of Grants Pass in the lower Rogue River drainage has grown to slightly more than 2,900 acres. Some 200 firefighters are working that complex which includes three fires.

Bear Camp Road is closed as well as trails through the area. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has closed the wild section of the lower Rogue to river floaters because the smoke inhibits any aerial river rescues should one be needed.

— Paul Fattig

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