MERLIN — A fast-moving grass fire destroyed a garage and singed two homes near the Merlin airport on Thursday.
Investigators believe a pick-up being driven along a road in the area might have sparked the blaze, which was reported just before 3 p.m.
Crews from across Southern Oregon rushed to the scene and were confronted by a large column of smoke rising high above Merlin. The primary concern was the 20 or so homes in the vicinity of the fire that were threatened by the quickly-spreading flames, Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Brian Ballou said.
"The wind really pushed it through some very dry grass," Ballou said.
The flames crept close enough to one home that the heat blew out a window on the residence, Ballou said.
"It's blackened the paint on the side of the home, but the fire guys on the scene managed to save the structure," Ballou said.
However, a garage about 10 feet from the home was destroyed.
Josephine County sheriff's deputies closed down several rounds surrounding the fire. Merlin Road between Monument Drive and Jaime Lane were shut down, as were Dellwood Drive and Carton Way.
Three helicopters were dispatched to the scene to rotate water bucket drops into the heart of the blaze.
"Having those three helicopters really helped us out," Ballou said. "They put water right into the interior of it, which helped slow it down considerably."
In all, 31 acres were charred and crews were expected to monitor the situation well into the night.
All of the roads surrounding the fire were opened to traffic by 9:30 p.m.
Fire crews hopped from blaze to blaze Thursday, Ballou said.
"We are going to see more and more of this in the coming days," Ballou said. "It's extremely dry out there."
Crews doused a fire in a ditch along Interstate 5 near Phoenix just before 3 p.m. The fire burned some trees and caused smoked to drift across Interstate 5 near the Home Depot.
Numerous other grass fires were reported throughout the day. As the temperatures move toward triple digits by the weekend, fire crews are on high alert throughout the Rogue Valley.
"We are prepared for anything at this point," Ballou said.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.