Weather conditions help crews slow fire growth

Firefighters made progress overnight on some of the fires burning in southwest Oregon, and growth was minimal. Officials estimate the region's fires now cover 40,230 acres combined, with 4,493 people engaged in battling them.

Structure protection appears to be solid, no homes have been lost, and no injuries have been reported.

"Overnight the fires only grew a little bit, and that was largely due to the atmospheric conditions and relatively high humidity," said Don Ferguson, public information officer for the Joint Information Center.

The Whiskey Complex burning near Tiller grew just 237 acres since yesterday, and containment on the 4,185-acre complex was estimated at 18 percent.

"A couple hundred acres of growth on a fire of that size isn't much, and that feels pretty good," Ferguson said.

The Brimstone fire burning approximately 10 miles northwest of Merlin experienced zero growth overnight and is considered 25 percent contained.

"We have a fire line around it, but that's different than calling it contained," Ferguson said. "It's just a hand line a few feet wide, but we have hose around it."

The Douglas Complex, the largest of the roughly 75 fires burning in the region, covers 28,596 acres and is 9 percent contained.

"The Douglas Complex grew 100 acres in the last 24 hours," Ferguson reported. "The south end of that fire near Grave Creek is problematic. It's a steep, tough place to fight a fire, and we don't have containment there. It keeps nudging south, and that's the part of the fire that challenges us the most."

The Labrador fire, burning approximately 13 miles northwest of Cave Junction gained 50 acres overnight and is estimated at 2,020 acres, but containment is nonexistent "and it will stay that way for a long time," Ferguson said.

"The community of Oak Flat is well protected, and with skillful firefighting we think we can keep it south of the Illinois River. But it's burning into the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, and we won't chase into the Kalmiopsis."

The Big Windy fire, burning in the steep canyon country in the area of Bear Camp Road along the wild section of the Rogue River about 25 miles northwest of Grants Pass, grew only 15 acres in the last 24 hours. But the roughly 3,000-acre fire has burned to the south edge of the Rogue River, and fire officials are concerned about what might happen if the fire leaps the river.

"At the moment it's burning uphill, which is good," Ferguson said, adding that structure protection for the historic Zane Grey cabin and Black Bar Lodge appear to be solid.

Firefighters are attempting to construct a "big box" around the fire using Bear Camp Road, Peavine Road, the river and some old fire lines and logging roads. Firefighters hope to conduct some "strategic firing," which involves setting small, controlled fires to create a wider fire line.

The problem is that the strategic maneuver will take time, and the weather that helped keep the fires tamped down yesterday — low ceiling, lower temperatures and higher humidity — is changing today.

If the fire jumps the Rogue and begins burning toward the south end of the Douglas Complex, the Big Windy fire could quickly grow beyond the ability of firefighters to stop it.

"That area is built to burn," Ferguson said. "It's called Big Windy for a reason, and conditions are favorable for fire to cross the river there" in the area of Horseshoe Bend.

"As long as it's burning uphill and away from the river, that's OK," said Ferguson, adding that firefighters expect to see more fire growth today.

"But we can't fight the fires where they are right now. We have to get them where we can fight them."

— David Smigelski

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