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MailTribune.com
  • Where there's smoke

  • A few of the several wildfires burning in the area between Mt. Ashland and Anderson Butte prompted an evacuation of properties along a mile-long stretch of Wagner Creek Road on Wednesday.
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  • A few of the several wildfires burning in the area between Mt. Ashland and Anderson Butte prompted an evacuation of properties along a mile-long stretch of Wagner Creek Road on Wednesday.
    Several residences in the areas of Anderson Butte and Wagner Creek were notified that an evacuation may be necessary, said Jackson County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Andrea Carlson, but firefighters late Wednesday appeared to be getting a handle on most of the fires.
    Tuesday's thunderstorms ignited 34 wildfires in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, said spokesman Paul Galloway, and Wednesday afternoon's thunderstorms ignited about 15 more.
    Galloway said all of the known fires in the area were staffed before dusk.
    Six fires — although small — are located within or near the Ashland Creek Watershed, he said.
    About 15 miles north of Gold Hill, an at least 25-acre wildfire burning near Sprignett Butte and Salt Creek sent a large column of smoke into the air visible from Medford until dusk Wednesday.
    A 232-acre Illinois Valley wildfire was surrounded by a fully-drawn fire line Wednesday afternoon, though crews still considered it 50 percent contained.
    Oregon Department of Forestry officials had also started to move toward the Reeves Creek Fire's interior, mopping up and extinguishing any hot spots. The fire was first reported Monday evening this week, burning about 25 miles southwest of Grants Pass.
    ODF spokesman Brian Ballou said the fire had been cooperative throughout the day. Fire officials also lifted a level one evacuation order for residents of nearby Wildpark Lane, off Highway 199.
    Still, the chance for additional thunderstorms across Southern Oregon this week prompted fire officials to scale back Tuesday's previously-reported containment number of 90 percent to 50 percent. Ballou says full containment takes into account the fire line, mop up efforts and likelihood the flames won't jump the line because of wind. The new containment number is really just a more conservative standpoint.
    "Part of the rationale is really because of the weather," Ballou said. "I think there's a higher feeling of caution because of that."
    The National Weather Service had issued a red flag warning for much of Southern Oregon Tuesday and Wednesday. A fire weather watch is in effect 2 to 11 p.m. today because of the chance for more thunderstorms and heat expected to climb, once again, into the triple digits.
    Overnight Tuesday, Jackson County was hit with 420 new lightning strikes, the Weather Service reported. ODF said many of these strikes were concentrated in the Butte Creek Drainage, Grizzly Peak and Mt. Ashland area.
    This netted seven new wildfire starts, though a majority have been snuffed by responding crews. One blaze, reported near Pilot Rock, grew to 11/2 acres, but it was fully contained and mopped up. Additional lightning-sparked fires were reported at Pilot Rock Road, the Rancheria area east of Butte Falls, along Highway 140 and in the Howard Prairie area.
    "Undoubtedly they're going to see more," Ballou said.
    Despite the cautionary scaleback, ODF officials say efforts to battle the Reeves Creek blaze have been paying off, with reduced smoke levels in the area and a calmer interior inside the fire line.
    "It was pretty squirrely out there on the west side of the fire Tuesday," Ballou said.
    On Wednesday, there were about 270 crew members still fighting the fire, along with 13 engines, four bulldozers, five helicopters and five water tenders.
    Crews also were getting the upper hand Wednesday on a lightning-sparked fire that grew to 25 acres along Crater Lake National Park's southern boundary. The Pumice Flat Fire, burning in mixed conifer forestland that includes hemlock, fir and pine trees, was at about 75 percent containment. Officials said they were encouraged by efforts, but mindful of thunderstorms moving into the area.
    Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil. Reporter Sam Wheeler contributed to this story.
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