Fire crews get upper hand on two big blazes

Two of the three largest wildfires burning in southwest Oregon are more than halfway contained.

Crews fighting the Douglas Complex burning seven miles outside Glendale and the Whiskey Complex outside Tiller reported 55 percent containment on both blazes Thursday.

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The Big Windy Complex, burning close to the Rogue River about 25 miles northwest of Grants Pass, remained at 15 percent containment.

Officials overseeing efforts to extinguish the Douglas Complex reported they are in the midst of a multiple-day burn-out plan aimed at containing the fire's most troublesome portion, located west of Reuben Creek at the Dad's Creek fire. Crews are working to draw a containment line along a ridge top there.

"There are so many trees in that area, and it's so steep coming up the side," said Dave Wells with the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Wells said that slightly cooler temperatures have aided firefighters over the past two days.

"It's just about perfect for burning right now for us. It's not extremely hot, it's not extremely dry," Wells said.

The Douglas Complex has grown to nearly 46,000 acres. No official containment date has been established.

Crews at the Whiskey Complex, burning six miles east of Tiller, were also reporting progress with their burnout work now that moisture from last week's thunderstorms has dried. Firefighters remain focused on the blaze's eastern flank, drawing fire lines along Forest Service Road No. 2925.

"We've got a lot of open line on that east and southeast side that's going to be very critical that we get tied in before we start feeling any relief," said spokeswoman Pam Sichting, an official with the Umpqua National Forest. "We've been prepping for the last several days."

The Big Windy fire, which continues to burn near the lower Rogue River, has burned 15,700 acres. A key focus for firefighters is the southeast flank, about five miles west of Galice, where burnout operations continued at the top of a ridge above Howard Creek.

"We want to be ready," said Howard Hunter, fire public information officer and retired U.S. Bureau of Land Management employee. "If we don't hold it there, we're talking about another little piece of geography."

A fire line has been established on the western flank, with the northern line about two days from completion, officials predicted. That line has been laid as a precaution in case flames jump the Rogue River.

The Wild Section of the river remains open to boaters, with restrictions. Fire officials urge boaters to put in and take out at the river's Argo and Almeda boat-launch sites to prevent congestion at the Grave Creek launch site. Fire crews are using the Grave Creek location to load and unload firefighters and supplies onto the river, and water tenders are coming to the launch to refill.

Air quality at three of the five Oregon Department of Environmental Quality reporting stations in southwest Oregon held steady at "good" Thursday. Grants Pass, Cave Junction and the Provolt Seed Orchard all reported good levels Thursday.

Medford's air was in the good range until Thursday afternoon, when it dropped to moderate. Shady Cove's station reported the air quality there was "unhealthy for sensitive groups."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.


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