Former infantry member Tyler Linson said it feels like he's back in the military as he and his neighbors band together against a common enemy — the Flounce fire burning toward their homes near Lost Creek Lake north of Shady Cove.
"It's amazing. I did not realize we'd all pull together like this. For not hanging out together on a daily basis, we've really pulled together," Linson said.
Residents have been building fire lines, setting out sprinklers, helping each other load up possessions and checking on vulnerable neighbors ever since lightning triggered the wildfire that began with an explosive sound shortly before 5 p.m. on Monday.
More than 250 firefighters are on the ground, with those numbers expected to double in upcoming days, Oregon Department of Forestry Public Information Officer Melissa Cano said in a Tuesday afternoon briefing.
The fire was at 600 acres and growing late Tuesday despite both ground and aerial attacks. (Corrected online: see below)
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared the Flounce fire a conflagration, clearing the way for the state fire marshal to mobilize firefighters and equipment to help provide protection for structures threatened by the fire.
On Tuesday, helicopters continued to make trip after trip, dipping their buckets in Lost Creek Lake and dumping water on the fire burning in rugged, heavily wooded hills two miles away.
"The nice thing is the turn-around time, because you've got Lost Creek Lake right behind you," said David Sween, who was helping a friend who lives in the area make evacuation preparations.
Neighbor Mathew Grieve said many of the rural residents have experience fighting wildfires and operating heavy equipment. They're putting those skills to use as they work to protect their homes and augment the efforts of the professional firefighters attacking higher up the hill.
While neighbors are doing what they can, Grieve said he thinks the work of the pilots is most critical for saving houses.
"It's up to the air traffic to dump water on it and they're working hard at it right now," he said.
Residents in about 50 homes along Lewis Road and Evergreen Drive not far from Highway 62 were under a level one evacuation alert late Tuesday, meaning they should be ready to leave.
Many people parked motor homes, ATVs, tractors and vehicles farther away from the fire in hopes of saving those major possessions. Some slept in their vehicles overnight, fearful of falling asleep in their houses.
Linson said when the wildfire first broke out, his relatives converged on his house and hauled away nine truck-loads worth of possessions, including everything from his military papers to deer, elk and bear mounts.
Medford resident Troy Roe, who was helping his mother evacuate personal belongings, said they picked the items that brought back the most memories, including antiques, her dolls, baby books and photo albums.
"That stuff is irreplaceable," he said.
Roe said everyone appreciates the hard work of the firefighters and pilots.
"They're doing a fantastic job," Roe said.
Terry Cryts was helping to feed her fellow neighbors as they took a break from clearing brush and trees. They lined up for hamburgers and cold drinks as helicopters passed back and forth overhead.
"We're a community that watches out for each other," she said.
Down in the Rogue Valley, TouVelle State Recreation Site is closed. Firefighters are using the park as a base for fighting the Flounce fire. Customers of Rogue Jet Boat Adventures can enter the park on shuttles provided by the business, according to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
Closer to the Flounce fire, other crews are using parts of the Joseph Stewart State Recreation Area along Lost Creek Lake as a base for battling two blazes near Crater Lake.
Correction: This report initially stated that the fire had reached 1,000 acres in size based on information from the Oregon State Fire Marshal's office. Oregon Department of Forestry officials, who had mapped the fire Tuesday evening, said that number is incorrect, and that it was actually about 600 acres in size.
Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.