New fire activity inside the Big Windy Complex brings smoke back into valley

A 20-acre swatch of previously unburned terrain within the Big Windy Complex fire's northeast quadrant caught fire Wednesday and sent smoke drifting into the Rogue Valley.

That fire, located near the confluence of Anna Creek and Howard Creek, is in a hard-to-reach portion of steep terrain that fire crews were not able to reach on foot, officials said. It's part of the 25,775 acres that had burned on the complex as of Thursday. Lightning sparked the main fire on July 26 near the Rogue River.

"It's the only unlined part of the fire," said Brian Ballou, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry. "(We said), 'If we're going to get a flare up, it's probably going to be in there,' and it did."

The new fire is in an area of loose, rocky soil on steep slopes. Smoke from the new flames poured into Galice, Wolf Creek, Grants Pass and Jacksonville.

"You can see the haze in the Rogue Valley around here," Ballou said.

Crews attacked the new flare-up with water drops from a helicopter Wednesday afternoon and evening. Crews believe they have managed to keep it at bay and will continue to keep an eye on it and other unburned areas as containment and mop-up operations continue.

"There's a lot of area in there the main fire didn't completely burn, so there's a lot of area that could just take off again," Ballou said.

Crews now consider the Big Windy Complex 90 percent contained.

Air-quality levels in Medford on Thursday dipped to the "moderate" level, meaning air quality could be of concern to sensitive individuals, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or

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