Mother Nature likely will decide the fate of the 45-acre Middle Fork fire deep in the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

Mother Nature likely will decide the fate of the 45-acre Middle Fork fire deep in the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

But, just in case a fire-killing rainstorm doesn't materialize anytime soon, a crew of 20 firefighters is helping manage it with a "confine and contain" strategy.

"We have a crew out there working along the Middle Fork trail, trying to keep the fire south, trying to steer it," explained Paul Galloway, spokesman for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

"This fire is being actively managed, but it hasn't been a real active fire," he added. "We're trying to minimize the acreage it burns."

The Middle Fork fire, sparked by lightning in mid-August, is expected to slowly expand until a "season ending event" which fire officials defined as at least a half inch of rain over a three-day period.

They also have established several management action points, such as natural fuel breaks or U.S. Forest Service trails, that will trigger a course of action should the fire reach those points, he said.

"If the fire approaches them we will reassess our strategy," he said. "That could include the use of helicopters. "

Firefighters are not battling the flank of the fire in the deep canyon because of the potential danger, he said, referring to the risk that the fire could flare up.

The fire is burning through dead, dry fuel on the ground, he said.

The fire is near the Middle Fork trail, which has been temporarily closed to hikers. The bottom of the canyon through which flows the upper Middle fork of the Rogue River is at about a 4,000-foot elevation. The top of the ridge overlooking the canyon is about 6,000 feet above sea level.

A "sleeper" fire likely caused by the same storm that started the Middle Fork fire was discovered Tuesday afternoon on Jerry Mountain about two miles north, Galloway said. Six firefighters rappelled from a helicopter to snuff out that blaze, which covered less than an acre.

Meanwhile, the 411-acre Lonesome fire in the Rogue Umpqua Divide and the 69-acre Bessie Rock fire about eight miles east of Prospect have both been contained. Firefighters are now mopping up those lightning-caused fires.

The 904-acre Horse Mountain fire in the Wild Rivers Ranger District some 17 miles southwest of Grants Pass was 70 percent contained by Wednesday evening.

The National Weather Service is calling for hot and dry temperatures through today, but a cooling trend is predicted over Labor Day weekend.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.