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MailTribune.com
  • Taking a stand

    Rogue River Drive residents chose to stay; fire knocked down by rain
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  • When smoke started billowing Tuesday for the second day in a row off the Rogue River Drive fire southeast of Shady Cove, Lee Wedberg didn't get nervous, he just grabbed his garden hose.
    Wedberg, 81, said he and his wife, Carolyn, designed their home on a subtle rise above Dry Creek about 10 years ago after picking up and leaving their property up Elk Creek following the 2002 Timbered Rock fire that consumed 27,000 acres and forced them to evacuate their home for six days.
    To Wedberg — who has been there and done that — getting all worked up Tuesday over a column of smoke three-quarters-of-a-mile away didn't seem necessary.
    He was impressed, though, by the fast work of six helicopters dipping water from the Rogue River and quickly turning around to drench the advancing flames.
    "I thought they might hit each other ... but they had it figured out," he said.
    Wedberg, whose property surrounding his home has been trimmed and cut back into a defensible space, said he grabbed his garden hose and started wetting the place down just in case an ember decided to land nearby and take off into a spot fire.
    "You can be dramatic and theatrical, but we chose to live here," he said.
    Tuesday and Wednesday, the Wedbergs' property was included in a level one — be ready to go — evacuation advisory along with homes lining Rhodes Lane, Kitty Lane, Osprey Drive, Greenleaf Drive and Colfax Way.
    Just to the north, up Dry Creek Road, the residents of three homes were told to leave immediately Tuesday afternoon because of the fire's increased activity.
    All of the residents ordered to evacuate opted to stay and defend their property from the looming fire, fire officials said, and the structures were not burned.
    "They had a close call up there," said Marc Smith, who lives on Dry Creek Road about a half-mile from one of the three homes where the level three evacuation was in effect.
    By mistake, he said, Smith and his wife, Charlotte, Tuesday evening were also ordered to evacuate in the middle of a meatloaf dinner. They left home, despite actually being under a level one evacuation, stayed the night at Shady Cove's Edgewater Inn and came back Wednesday morning. 
    "Two guys came by and they said 'you should be leaving.' ... They told us we only had 15 minutes," Marc Smith said. "It was getting pretty intense, a lot of noise, a lot of activity." 
    The Smiths could see the fire's flames climbing a ridge, they said.
    "I've lived here 52 years and this is the worst fire I've seen as far as property owners go," Marc Smith said. "They really got on this one, though."
    "I am glad the rain came," Charlotte Smith said.
    And did it ever.
    Record rainfall in the Rogue Valley Wednesday helped douse the wildfire.
    Between 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, a record-setting 0.44 of an inch of rain fell at the Medford airport, breaking the former 1976-set Aug. 13 rainfall record of 0.37 of an inch, said Misty Duncan, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Medford.
    "It was definitely a significant amount of rain for Jackson County this time of year," she said.
    Brian Ballou, fire prevention specialist with the Oregon Department of Forestry, said fire crews reported heavy rain Wednesday on the Rogue River Drive fire, which was pegged at 584 acres.
    Crews had built line around the entire fire by Wednesday evening and were planning to work into the night mopping up all hot spots up to 100 feet inside the perimeter, Ballou said.
    The blaze is 40 percent contained, he said.
    Seven 20-person hand crews, 11 engines, six water tenders and 10 bulldozers were assigned to the fire Wednesday, he said, totaling about 211 personnel.
    Late Tuesday, Gov. John Kitzhaber invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act to mobilize a state team of firefighters to help battle the blaze; however, the state team was demobilized and left the fire early Wednesday afternoon because of minimal fire activity, Ballou said.
    Late Wednesday, a level-one evacuation advisory remained in effect for Dry Creek Road, Rhodes Lane, Kitty Lane, Osprey Drive, Greenleaf Drive and Colfax Way, according to a press release from the Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office.
    "There are still smokes rising up that you can see off Rogue River Drive, but obviously the rain took care of quite a lot of the hot spots," Ballou said.
    The lightning-sparked fire popped up Monday afternoon after a thunderstorm, and crews had it under control at about 100 acres Tuesday morning until erratic afternoon winds pushed the flames over the south and southeast containment lines.
    Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.
     

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