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MailTribune.com
  • Vehicle sparks ignited hill fire in Grants Pass

  • GRANTS PASS — Fire crews spent Saturday mopping up a 115-acre blaze that scorched Beacon Hill above Grants Pass.
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    • How to help
      The Oregon Department of Forestry is asking anyone who saw how the fire in Grants Pass started to call 541-471-3883.
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      How to help
      The Oregon Department of Forestry is asking anyone who saw how the fire in Grants Pass started to call 541-471-3883.
  • GRANTS PASS — Fire crews spent Saturday mopping up a 115-acre blaze that scorched Beacon Hill above Grants Pass.
    Meanwhile, Jackson County engines rushed to a handful of grass fires that sparked on a day of gusty winds and temperatures in the mid-80s.
    The Beacon Hill fire damaged one home and burned an outbuilding Friday.
    Investigators believe the fire started along the northbound lane of Interstate 5 between mileposts 55 and 58.
    Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Brian Ballou said sparks from a car driving on the freeway most likely started a fire in the brush along the base of Beacon Hill.
    The dry conditions caused the flames to race up the hill and consume heavy brush at the top.
    "We are still looking for help identifying the car," Ballou said.
    The driver could be hit with the cost of fighting the blaze. Ballou said it's up to car owners to make sure their vehicles are not potential torches that spark forest fires.
    One home on the hill sustained damage to one corner when some plants next to the siding caught fire, Ballou said.
    "It was only minor damage to the house," Ballou said.
    Fire crews have doused the flames at the edges of the burn and are working their way inward to finish the job, Ballou said.
    "I'd say that they have it 60 percent contained at this point," Ballou said. "It's looking really good."
    The fire sent smoke pouring down the freeway and forced Oregon State Police troopers to slow traffic in the area. Heavy smoke was seen and smelled as far away as Medford.
    In all, around 170 firefighters from across Southern Oregon rushed to Grants Pass to battle the wildfire.
    Ballou said several homes on Beacon Hill were spared because of the quick response.
    In Jackson County on Saturday, fire crews were kept hopping by a sprinkling of grass fires that popped up throughout the day.
    The largest happened in the 5000 block of Old Stage Road, where nearly two acres were scorched by a grass fire.
    The cause of that blaze remains under investigation, according to Jackson County Fire District No. 3 Capt. Nathan Smith.
    A few other controlled burns slipped from their boundaries and caused smaller grass fires, Smith said.
    "Three of the grass fires were escaped open burns," Smith said. "When those afternoon winds picked up, we were busy."
    Many people were most likely hoping to burn brush piles before fire season restrictions set in on Monday.
    The start of fire season means that debris burning, other than burn barrels for those with permits, is banned. Burning in burn barrels is prohibited beginning July 1.
    The dry conditions this spring caused fire season to start three weeks earlier than last year, according to Margueritte Hickman, division chief and fire marshal for the Ashland Fire Department.
    Hickman reminds residents that fire restrictions are in place for the cities as well as rural areas.
    Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.
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