The 830-acre Hendrix fire between Mount Ashland and the Applegate is about 15 percent contained as of Friday evening and is only one of — and not the main — contributer to the “unhealthful” smoke readings in the Rogue Valley that settling in late Thursday and are expected to persist at least through the weekend.
So reported half a dozen fire bosses from the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry at a town hall meeting in Ashland on Friday at the Ashland Hills Hotel. They pointed to maps showed a thriving arc of wildfires stretching from the Coast Range up over the Rogue-Umpqua divide to Crater Lake, all left behind by a vigorous lightning storm that rambled through the area Sunday morning.
Jeff Bouschor of the Forest Service detailed the activities of crews setting handlines and backfires on the western and southern edges of the Hendrix blaze about 6 miles southwest of Ashland, noting it’s a difficult battle because it’s steep, heavily timbered and choked with slash.
First and foremost, he adds, crews have to carve exit routes for their own safety in the rugged mountainous terrain.
“The firefight is going well and the crews are making good progress,” he said. “They are fighting right on the fire’s burning edge, removing fuels (with backfires) and cutting firelines right down to the soil.”
Although the Hendrix fire is the closest one to Ashland, that doesn’t mean it’s the source of Ashland’s considerable smoke on Friday, Bouschor notes. Rather, smoke is funneling in from many blazes to the north and west, depending on where shifting winds are coming from.
On Friday, the source of Rogue Valley’s smoke was mainly Upper Evans Creek by the town of Rogue River and also the Rogue-Umpqua divide, said Ron Zilli of the Oregon Department of Forestry, with minor contribution from Hendrix.
“Containment of Hendrix is several days away,” says Zilli. “This fire is a challenge. It’s steeper, hotter and drier than our usual fire and we’re having to go at it very thoughtfully.”
The weather forecast, he adds, is for southerly offshore flow, which means moist with potential for more lightning storms, but this should land mainly in the Cascade-to-Klamath Falls region.
The Rogue Valley, said Brent Walker of the Forest Service, “is a suckhole of smoke from multiple fires, all compressed in Medford, Ashland and Northern California because the wind from the north forms a lid over us and doesn’t allow deep mixing. We have at least eight fires going in the region.”
The future? “Through the weekend, it will be much the same,” says Walker. “Very little movement, with slight improvement later Sunday, then better next week, as winds move it to the northeast.”
The Pacific Crest Trail was closed in the Wrangle Gap region, as it was too close to the Hendrix blaze.
The Ashland watershed fires were a big concern Monday, but Bouschor says they got fully lined at 9 acres, but will be tended for the next couple days to make sure “there’s not any fire left in there.”
Chris Chambers of Ashland Fire Department lauded the new Nixle system, which texts the latest hazard information. Just text your zipcode to 888777. If you live in rural areas outside Ashland city limits, the previously established Jackson County Citizens Alert is best for receiving updated emergency information, including evacuations orders.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.
A community meeting about the Hendrix fire burning about 5 miles southwest of Ashland is set for 6 p.m. today, July 20, in the Aquarius Room at Ashland Hills Hotel, 2525 Ashland St., fire officials announced this afternoon.
As of this afternoon, it's burned about 830 acres and is 10 percent contained. It started on Sunday, July 15, from lightning that came through southwest Oregon during a thunderstorm that resulted in numerous downstrikes and started multiple fires.
This story will be updated after the meeting.