The number of firefighters on the Big Windy Complex fire deep in the rugged mountains just south of the lower Rogue River has been cut from more than 1,000 to about 300.
Bear Camp Road, a popular shuttle route along the river, was reopened Tuesday after being closed for more than a month because of the firefighting activity in the area.
And the 24,253-acre some 25 miles northwest of Grants Pass is now 87 percent contained.
"But we still have two worry points — areas that have fire line but no black next to them," said Dan Thorpe, forester in charge of the Oregon Department of Forestry's Southwest Oregon District.
"We probably won't be able to call it fully contained until we get a rain event," he added.
Yet the veteran firefighter is relieved the fire, which officials warned could burn as much as 50,000 acres, appears to have been stopped at half that amount. Fire officials initially decided to use the Rogue River to the north as one fire line while Bear Camp Road would serve as the southern fire line.
The fire on U.S. Bureau of Land Management forestland was triggered by a lightning strike on July 26.
"It has been a tough, long road to get to this point," Thorpe said. "It's rugged, remote country. But it is smaller than we anticipated, not as hard on the landscape as it could have been.
"I would compliment the teams," he said of the firefighters. "When we got rain, each one looked for the opportunity to go in tighter, keeping the fire smaller."
But they remain vigilant, looking for hot spots near fire lines with aerial infrared scans, he said.
"We have small groups patrolling the fire, ready to move," he said. "We have aircraft ready to move if they are needed."
The Bear Camp Road was reopened because of the reduction in firefighting activity, said Brian Ballou, fire spokesman and a longtime ODF district employee.
Although a section of Bear Camp Road acts as the southern fire line, it has been deemed safe for the public, he said.
However, anyone traveling the 50-mile road linking Galice with Gold Beach is urged to use extreme caution. The route is heavily used by recreational drivers and as a shuttle route by those floating the whitewater on the Wild and Scenic stretch of the river.
Officials also warn the road could be closed again if the fire flares up. All U.S. Bureau of Land Management roads off the Bear Camp Road remain closed.
In addition, the Burnt Ridge Road is closed from the junction with Forest Road 23 to Forest Road 33 as well as the Marial Access Road and the road from Grave Creek to Marial.
Camping is allowed on the north side of the Rogue River from Montgomery Creek to Quail Creek. Camping remains closed on the south side of the river in that same area.
"The majority of the fire is looking pretty good but there is still a lot of unburned area trapped within the fire lines," Ballou said. "That country is hard to access and very steep. It's pretty country but tough to fight a fire in."
It has cost $33.97 million thus far to fight the fire, according to the ODF.
The 48,679-acre Douglas Complex fire burning just north of Glendale is now 95 percent contained. Total cost of fighting that fire is $51.76 million, ODF reported.
The Brimstone Fire, which burned some 2,400 acres a half-dozen miles northwest of Sunny Valley, cost some $8 million to contain. Both the Douglas Complex and the Brimstone fires were also ignited by lightning on July 26.
The ODF is expected to receive roughly $61 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in reimbursement for perimeter protection of rural communities.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: The name of the fire has been corrected in the headline.