Little Butte fire grows to 467 acres

Taking a water break from clearing snags in the Little Butte fire Thursday afternoon, crew member Marty Miller looks like a piece of burnt toast. His face and bright yellow fire resistant shirt are covered in carbon and a particularly long black streak runs the length of his nose

Looks however can be deceiving, and Miller insists that this war paint is less because of the fire and more because of him.

"I got something in my eye, and I was pawing all over my face trying to get it out ... it's not as bad as it looks."

Miller's teammate, Dave Smith, points to a group moving amongst the trees and said they're the ones who really deserve the credit.

"Those guys up there are the ones really sweating it out ... They've dumped twice as many trees as I have." He said, "Those are the young guns, the hotshots doing all the work."

Smith and Miller are part of a three-man team working to clear snags and timber hazards from already burnt areas in to ensure that these don't hinder further mop up operations.

The fire has been burning since Monday and as of Thursday was burning a 467 acre patch about 16 miles northeast of Medford and is about five percent contained according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. No structure damage has been reported and about 540 personnel from the ODF, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management, Douglas Forest Protective Association, and private contractors.

Two 12 hour shifts have been working on establishing a fire line and mopping up the blaze. The night shift sleeps during the day in the shade at Howard Prairie, and will come on as the day shift retires. Some crews reportedly worked as many as 22 hours straight during the fire's initial stages to bring it under control.

Miller and Smith were part of crews were working the fire's west side, where the fire line had been established along an access road during the blaze's inaugural days. Most of what remains in this section is black grass with streaks of white and occasional pockets of smoke.

Separate from the teams cutting down snags, different teams search for hot spots in the brush that are still smoldering, sometimes underground in the root systems and under the duff or detritus. These teams carry shovels and "bladder bags" full of water. These bladders are attached to a hose that can be used to douse still burning spots. These pack loads with water can weigh over 75 pounds when combined with other equipment.

Octavio Munguia worked to extinguish one of these hot spots Thursday afternoon.

In addition to the obvious dangers prevented by the fire, threats area also posed by rocks rolling down the hill and other falling tree debris from the woodcutting.

"You have to look up, look down, look everywhere," Munguia said.

This particular afternoon a rolling rock nearly took out a TV news reporter at the bottom of the slope.

Dehydration is also a threat because the already hot conditions are amplified by the gear and fire resistant clothing fire fighters must wear.

Though the fire's west side is relatively under control, the fire isn't out yet

Farther up the slope away from the hot spot search, smoke can still be seen rising above the forest. The fire is down, but not out.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Paul Galloway said Thursday that the fire won't be completely extinguished until the first snows fall later in the year, but he believes that the worst of the fire could be under control by the end of the week.

Galloway also said that there are fires that are allowed to burn naturally if they don't pose a risk, but the Little Butte is no such fire.

"The prescription's still to be suppressing this fire. Galloway said. This is full suppression."

Mat Wolf is a reporting intern from the University of Oregon. Reach him at 541-776-4481 or by email at

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