Wildfire near Grants Pass could blacken 8,000 acres

Five hundred firefighters are battling blaze, which has consumed 850 acres

The stubborn Oak Flat fire burning deep in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest could scorch some 8,000 acres before firefighters get it out.

Firefighters are back-burning between fire lines and the main body of the blaze to remove fuel ahead of the fire, which has burned some 850 acres, explained Tom Lavagnino, spokesman for the national overhead team managing the firefighting effort. "It all depends on how it goes, but it could burn 7,000 or 8,000 acres," he said. "We're hoping to keep it to less than that."

A worst-case scenario could result in even more acreage burning, he said, citing the extreme fire danger coupled with rugged terrain, heavy fuel and the potential explosiveness of wildfires.

Because of the difficulty and danger of putting people near the main fire, firefighters are using fire lines built during the 2002 Biscuit fire, Lavagnino said.

Many of those fire lines are located quite a distance from the fire, he noted.

"We are attacking it methodically and logically," he stressed.

However, if the area receives rain and firefighters are successful in slowing the fire, the acreage burned will be less, he said, noting fire-weather forecasters had predicted pockets of intense rain in the area.

The fire is burning in the Wild Rivers Ranger District about 20 miles southwest of Grants Pass. Access is by the Illinois River Road west of Selma on Highway 199.

Currently the largest wildfire in the nation, the fire is in the lower Illinois River drainage near the mouth of Briggs Creek. Suspected to be human caused, the fire was reported Friday morning. The cause is under investigation.

About 5 percent of the fire is contained by fire lines.

Roughly 500 firefighters have been deployed to the area, along with 140 hand crews expected to join them soon. Seven helicopters have been dropping water on the fire. Two airplanes equipped with infrared technology have been deployed to monitor fire behavior.

No structures are yet threatened by the fire.

Because of the number of firefighting vehicles and firefighters in the area, a closure order went into effect Monday for the immediate area surrounding the fire.

While rain was pounding Medford late Tuesday afternoon, Grants Pass was choked in smoke and the fire area was broiling under the summer sun.

Smoke from the fire may be blowing into parts of the Rogue and Illinois valleys today as firefighters burn areas ahead of the main fire.

"Chances are there is going to be a lot of smoke from that," Lavagnino warned.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.


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