Blaze 85% contained

The blaze blackening the hills south of Ashland is 85 percent contained and firefighters are working around the clock to corral it further, fire officials said this morning

Officials expect to have the Siskiyou Fire fully contained on Thursday, said Brian Ballou, fire prevention specialist with the Oregon Department of Forestry, the agency in charge of the fire.

The fire has burned 190 acres in the hills above Siskiyou Boulevard, south of Tolman Creek Road since it began Monday morning, new mapping data shows, Ballou said. Previously officials estimated the fire — which has not spread since late Monday — had burned about 150 acres.

"I think we've made excellent progress on getting the Siskiyou Fire so it's relatively safe. We're actually ahead of schedule on our mop-up," of hot spots, Ballou said.

Approximately 185 homes remain threatened by the fire, although all evacuation orders have been lifted, he said.

"They're still at risk, but it's getting less and less of a risk hour by hour," he said.

Officials will declare the blaze fully contained when firefighters have secured the perimeter of the fire and all hot spots between 50 and 100 feet inside of the fire line have remained extinguished for several hours.

Fighting the fire has so far cost $831,000, but expenses are expected to top $1 million before the blaze is declared 'out,' Ballou said.

"There's things that we're obligated for that we just haven't factored in yet," he said.

On Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the use of federal funds to help battle the Ashland blaze. The agency could pay for as much as 75 percent of the fire expenses, Ballou said. The state will pay for the rest, he said.

The fire began near a residence in the 3300 block of Siskiyou Boulevard, but it remains unclear exactly what caused the blaze, Ballou said.

"The investigation is continuing," he said. "In the absence of a lightning strike, it usually boils down to something related to people."

Fueled by strong winds and hot weather, the fire exploded in size about an hour after its ignition, destroying one home and three shed-like structures.

Still, the damage could have been worse, Ballou said.

"It was fortunate that those strong winds started really significantly calming down early in the afternoon," he said. "There was certainly continuous fuel for the fire up there."

No significant injuries related to the fire have been reported, according to officials.

About 250 firefighters are still assigned to the blaze, but the first-responders have largely been pulled out — in case of another fire, Ballou said.

"We're a long ways from being done with fire season," he said. "We could do this again."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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