Firefighters battle Little Butte fire

It may take several days to extinguish a wildfire that roared to life near Fish Lake Monday and quickly spread to 200 acres, throwing smoke into the Rogue Valley, officials said.

About 300 firefighters have been battling the Little Butte fire — formerly called the Dead Indian Mountain fire — using bulldozers, hand tools and air tankers, officials said.

"We didn't lose any more ground," Oregon Department of Forestry fire prevention specialist Brian Ballou said Tuesday morning. "They're still calling it 200 acres."

Eight 20-person hand crews, six engines, three dozers and three water tenders are fighting the fire.

Crews from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, ODF and several private contractors were called to fight the mile-long fire, which is burning west to east. It started about six miles southwest of Fish Lake near Little Butte Creek Road in a canyon area and grew quickly because of the amount of ground fuel, Ballou said.

"It really ripped. Heavy, continuous fuel," Ballou said.

The fire's cause is still under investigation, but it was spotted after a lightning storm hit the area Sunday night.

A special incident management team of officials from ODF, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and Medford District Bureau of Land of Management has taken charge of the firefighting operation.

There are some scattered cabins and outbuildings on the private lands where the fire is burning, along with the historical Robinson Lookout and Big Elk Guard Station, but no structures have burned, Ballou said. The few parties camping at the North Fork, Beaver Dam and Daley Creek campgrounds were notified about the blaze, but were not evacuated.

About 120 crew members from the three agencies responded to the fire Monday. Private contractors also joined in the efforts, along with two air tankers from Redmond.

Crews built fire lines using bulldozers to stop the fire's continued spread. One heavy helicopter and two medium-sized helicopters were still in use Tuesday.

Ballou couldn't give an estimate on when the fire would be contained, as many spots are not accessible by heavy machinery and fire lines must be dug by hand crews. Dry, hot weather, with predicted high temperatures of nearly 100 degrees this week, also could hamper suppression efforts.

"We expect the fire to be active for a number of days. It's fire season and it's the kind of weather that encourages more active fire behavior," said Virginia Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Ryan Pfeil is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

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