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MailTribune.com
  • Storms so far have done little to quell biggest blazes

    But crews make gradual progress despite limited aerial help because of poor visibility
  • The isolated showers associated with the thunderstorms rolling through southwestern Oregon didn't even wet the whistle of the parched forest being consumed by the Big Windy Complex fire in the Lower Rogue River drainage.
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  • The isolated showers associated with the thunderstorms rolling through southwestern Oregon didn't even wet the whistle of the parched forest being consumed by the Big Windy Complex fire in the Lower Rogue River drainage.
    "The storm cells broke up in the heat before they got over the fire area," said Jim Whittington, spokesman for the command center staffing that fire.
    "There was a few sprinkles on the very top of Bear Camp Road but that was about it," he added. "There was no signature rain on the fire."
    The fire, centered some eight miles north of Galice, has grown to 14,085 acres. It was one of five fires sparked by a dry lightning storm on July 26 that have now burned some 65,000 acres in the region.
    Extremely smoky conditions have hampered attempts to launch major aerial attacks on the fires.
    But firefighters hope that Mother Nature will offer them a helping hand by dousing the forests during thunderstorms expected through Saturday. There is the potential for brief, yet heavy rainfall in some areas, fire officials said.
    The Big Windy is 5 percent contained with 1,339 firefighters assigned to the blaze.
    Burnout operations on the south flank along Bear Camp Road have been completed, with crews now mopping up along the road, Whittington said. They expect to work throughout the night to enhance the burnout along Peavine Road, completing the work along the roads by this morning, he added.
    Elsewhere on the fire, equipment is being used to build a dozer line on a ridge to create the western fire line, but the work is progressing slowly because of the difficult terrain.
    "That last little stretch is a 100 percent slope in some places," Whittington said. "We have to figure out how to burn it out. We'd like to do it at night, but there is no way we would put firefighters in there at night. We'll have to do it during the day."
    They are working on strategies for safely removing the fuel, he said.
    "We are a ways away from stopping this fire, even if it stays on this side of the river," he said.
    Firefighters have been posted north of the river — designated the northern fire line — to watch for spot fires caused by embers blowing ahead of the main fire. Other crews have burned out around the historic Zane Grey cabin and Black Bar Lodge.
    Roads, trails and the river remain closed to the public.
    A Level 2 evacuation notice has been posted by the Josephine County Sheriff's Office for Marial Lodge east to Grave Creek and along what is known as the Marial Byway. That level evacuation means people living in that area should be ready to leave at a moment's notice.
    A Level 1 evacuation notice has been issued for the Galice Access Road area, including around Grave Creek Bridge along Galice Road. That level evacuation alerts residents that they should prepare for evacuation.
    Estimated containment of the Big Windy fire is Sept. 1, but it is expected to grow to nearly 50,000 acres by then, officials said.
    The Douglas Complex fire, burning largely in Douglas County, has already reached more than 42,000 acres.
    In that complex, centered about seven miles north of Glendale, the largest is the 21,598-acre Rabbit Mountain fire, which continues to expand to the southwest. The other main fire in that complex is the Dads Creek fire near Grave Creek, which is now about 20,794 acres, although fire lines are near completion on the south end, officials said.
    Evacuation advisories have been lifted for the last of the residents of 105 households who were encouraged to leave a week ago when the Douglas Complex put them in harm's way.
    The Whiskey Complex fire near Tiller has burned 10,466 acres. It is about 35 percent contained by fire lines.
    The other two fires ignited by lightning on July 26 are no longer a major threat. The 2,020-acre Labrador fire half a dozen air miles west of Selma has stopped growing, and the roughly 2,400-acre Brimstone fire a few miles north of Sunny Valley has been contained.
    But firefighters continue to snuff out new lightning-caused fires sparked by the storms marching through the area. That includes 14 small fires discovered and mopped up on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.
    Fire on the Web: Find stories, photos, maps and links on the Southern Oregon wildfires at www.mailtribune.com/fires. Daily updates can be found at www.mailtribune.com.
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