Southern Oregon sends fire crews to California

Two local Forest Service fire engines and crews have been dispatched to California to help beleaguered firefighters who have been struggling against hundreds of fires for almost three weeks.

Fire engines that are normally stationed at Ruch and Merlin have been sent to California, said Patty Burel, spokeswoman for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Engines stationed in Butte Falls and Gold Beach also are available for dispatch to California, Burel said.

About 20 private contractor crews of 20 firefighters each from the region also are working the fires, along with 12 fire engines and their crews that were hired on contract.

Nearly two dozen people from local Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management offices are working in administrative and supervisory jobs at the fires, Burel said.

"The number changes from day to day," she said, because some people are released from fire duty and others are called up.

Persistent hot weather and the sheer number of fires have forced California firefighters to work for days without a break, and many fires are still far from contained. The fire closest to Southern Oregon, the Siskiyou Complex, had grown to about 24,000 acres by Thursday, driven by erratic winds and temperatures over 100 degrees through most of the week.

The temperature at Somes Bar, Calif., near the burn area, was 105 degrees at 4 p.m. Thursday, and forecasters were calling for high temperatures to remain near or above 100 degrees at least through next Wednesday.

The lightning-kindled fires have burned more than 700,000 acres (nearly 1,100 square miles) since they started June 20. More than 20,000 people, 1,500 fire engines, and 250 bulldozers have been committed to the suppression effort.

Burel said there are still plenty of state and federal resources available to fight local fires. The Bureau of Land Management has about 165 people who hold the "red cards" that are issued to firefighters, and about 250 current and former Forest Service employees are certified to fight fire.

Firefighters must pass a physical fitness test and have safety training to be eligible to fight fire.

Burel said there are still seven Forest Service fire engines, and 22 state fire engines are available in Jackson and Josephine counties. As of Thursday, the Oregon Department of Forestry in Central Point will have a bucket-drop helicopter stationed at Central Point that can carry about 150 gallons of water in each load, said Greg Alexander, ODF's Medford unit forester.

Alexander said an air tanker will be stationed in Medford as of Tuesday, and a second tanker will be available from Redmond.

At least nine state or federal fire lookout towers are staffed regularly, and others are used during lightning storms or other periods of extreme fire danger.

"We're staffed and ready to go," Alexander said.

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