State and federal crews scrambled Monday to get a handle on as many as 100 lightning fires ignited during a string of Sunday storms, with an evacuation notice downgraded late Monday morning for Sterling Creek Road residents in the path of one fire.
Initial attacks on the 100-acre Sterling Creek fire on the ground and in the air were strong enough to downgrade the Level 3 (Go) evacuation to a Level 1 (Be ready) for residents from the 7400 to the 9400 block of Sterling Creek Road, authorities said.
The change came as the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest called in two teams from Washington to help manage 57 new fires caused Sunday when about 2,000 lightning strikes peppered the Rogue Valley and surrounding mountains.
At the Sterling Creek fire, aggressive attacks with water-dropping helicopters, airplanes with retardant and ground crews were able to get that fire slowed and 55 percent contained by late Monday morning, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
That allowed the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office to lift the evacuation order that most Sterling Creek Road residents chose to ignore, sheriff’s Sgt. Julie Denney said.
“Most people chose to stay,” Denney said. “Only a few people left.”
Former Mail Tribune reporter Paul Fattig lives in the lower end of the evacuated area but outside of the area ODF crews asked for evacuation notification, and he stayed put.
“I don’t know anyone who evacuated,” said Fattig, who turned 67 Sunday.
Fattig said he was alerted to the fire when heavy helicopters and, later, a retardant-dropping plane flew overhead to the fire about three miles away.
“They were one after another,” Fattig said. “It was well-orchestrated.”
The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is organizing firefights in its four ranger districts spanning the west Cascades to the Pacific.
In the Ashland and Applegate areas, eight fires were confirmed and six were contained as of early Monday afternoon. The largest remaining fire was the Hendrix fire about eight miles southwest of Ashland and four miles northeast of Dutchman Lookout.
Initially listed Monday morning at 85 acres, the size was upgraded by midday to 170 acres, and the smoke billowing from it southwest of Wagner Gap was visible from Interstate 5, according to the Forest Service.
One of the Washington teams was expected to take over management of that fire Monday evening, forest spokeswoman Chamise Kramer said.
Attack on the Hendrix fire included retardant, but that approach was scrubbed because of the dense forest canopy above the flames, Kramer said.
“The retardant wasn’t hitting the ground,” she said, adding that retardant use could return on the fire if conditions change.
Rappelling crews and smokejumpers joined one engine and a helicopter to attack the 5-acre Watershed fire in the south end of the Ashland watershed. An additional 20-person crew was ordered for that blaze, the Forest Service reports.
The largest of the fires is the Green Top Mountain fire, which has burned an estimated 125 acres five miles northeast of Eagle Point but is not currently threatening any structures, according to ODF. With about 90 percent of the fire’s perimeter lined, the fire was listed Monday morning at 5 percent contained.
Also burning were multiple fires in the Trail Creek and Elk Creek drainages totaling about 10 acres, with no structures threatened, according to ODF.
Forest Service crews in the High Cascades Ranger District had 34 smoke reports and 20 confirmed fires, with smokejumpers on initial attacks of several fires — all of which were under 10 acres, according to the Forest Service.
No structures were threatened, and Bolan Lake remained open despite fires in the vicinity, according to the Forest Service.
Information on the national forest fires can be found on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Facebook page, Kramer said.
Meanwhile, a portion of the 38,000-acre Klamathon fire south of Greensprings now is being managed as a separate fire to provide safer and quicker travel to it by firefighters from the Greensprings area.
The so-called North Klamathon fire incident command post was set up at Ashland Middle School.
Seven engines, a water tender and three 20-person hand crews were available Monday for initial attack on new fires attributed to Sunday’s lightning as well as reinforcement of fire lines in the North Klamathon fire.
The Klamathon fire was listed Monday morning at 95 percent contained, and so far has cost more than $31 million to fight, according to the Forest Service.
While firefighters grapple with flames and keep an eye on the weather, no more aerial electronics are in the forecast through the week, according to the National Weather Service.
While remnant lighting continued midday Monday in the Summer Lake area east of the Cascades, no local lightning was expected until at least Friday, the weather service reported.
“We’re going to be hot and dry here until at least Friday,” meteorologist Brian Nieuwenhuis said. “But we’ll see.”
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.