Overnight rain double-edged sword for firefighters at Big Windy Complex

Some light rains fell over the Big Windy Complex fires Thursday night, but the presence of moisture was a mixed blessing.

Officials at the fire said the reported two-tenths of an inch of rainfall did slow the flames, but it also prohibited firefighters from performing burnout work to bolster fire lines.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Joel Brumm, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Crews still managed to hold the fire lines overnight because of the rain.

"It doesn't sound like they got much in the way of wind or lightning," Brumm said.

A red flag warning from the National Weather Service remains in effect through 11 p.m. today, meaning additional thunderstorms and rain could be en route to Southern Oregon. National Weather Service data shows precipitation levels over the past 12 hours have varied across the region, with little falling over the Rogue Valley.

Air quality in parts of Jackson County showed some improvement this morning because of thinned smoke. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's air quality index shows Medford hovering in the "moderate" range. Cave Junction and Shady Cove stations have reported moderate quality, too. Grants Pass air quality is currently listed as "unhealthy for sensitive groups."

The Big Windy Complex, which consists of several lightning-sparked fires burning near the lower Rogue River, has grown to 14,364 acres in size, and is 10 percent contained. Crews estimate 100 percent containment by Sept. 1. More than 1,200 personnel are combatting the spread. Helicopters were able to assist with heavy water drops as smoke thinned Thursday.

The fire's eastern edge has spread to the lower slopes of Howard Creek, which crews continue to monitor. Crews will continue to work on lines north of the river and on the eastern and northeastern flanks. Firefighters have blackened an area around the Black Bar Lodge to protect it from advancing flames and have started similar burnout work near Zane Grey's cabin.

— Ryan Pfeil

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