For many, pets are family, and in Southern Oregon, when the nation's largest wildfire knocks on your door, animal rescue volunteers are not far behind.
"A FEMA statistic shows how 67 percent of pet owners won't leave their animals behind during evacuations," said Linda Bacon, director of Southern Oregon Emergency Aid, an emergency animal evacuation group with 400 volunteers that live in and serve Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Curry and Douglas counties.
In both Josephine and Curry counties — where the Chetco Bar fire has grown to 177,301 acres — evacuation notices from Level 1 "get ready" alerts to Level 3 orders to "leave now" are affecting hundreds of households.
"If you need help evacuating large animals, please contact us early on," Bacon said. "We can't help if you're in a Level 3 evacuation zone. We have pastures, barns, chicken coops, hog pens, turtle ponds and more to accommodate animal evacuees. Our volunteers can transport, shelter and provide non-medical care for livestock and companion animals."
Josephine County Commissioner Lily Morgan recently put out a press release to help SOEA mobilize more volunteers.
"Our phones just lit up," Bacon said. "A lot of people want to help — but didn't know how to plug in. And if evacuations escalate, we'll need more help with animal care at the Josephine County Fairgrounds."
SOEA has an active FB page that coordinates animal rescue resources and reports on current fire status and weather.
"The rain over the past few days has given firefighters and smoke-stressed residents some much needed respite," said Chetco Bar fire public information officer Terry Krasko.
"On the east side of the fire, this rain gave us a chance to get the old Biscuit fire lines re-opened. Now we can meet the wildfire with fire on our own terms," he said, referring to a back-burning strategy behind fire lines. "Now it's a game of patience, waiting for the right weather conditions to facilitate a nice slow burn that stays out of the crowns and eats up the grasses and needles."
Because the fire is burning in the old Biscuit fire scar from 2002, "the extreme fire behavior we've seen in the mature forest stands on the Brookings side is unlikely to occur near the Illinois Valley," Krasko added.
Krasko also said a new base camp is being established in Selma. "The east side of fire has its own Type Two Incident Management Team now and they'll coordinate with the west side of fire, which is based out of Brookings," he said. "They'll share resources back and forth.
"On the Brookings side of the fire, we've been dealing with some fire spotting, but the rain really helped with that as well," Krasko said. "Our Incident Commander Noel Livingston said he has 'high confidence' that fire can be kept out of Brookings." Though he added that new fire starts after lightning strikes Wednesday and Thursday are a concern.
Currently, 1,550 firefighters staff the Chetco Bar fire. That equates to 41 crews, 79 engines, seven helicopters and 24 dozers. Krasko also noted that after being grounded by heavy smoke for days, more aircraft are now able to get back into the air and rejoin the firefight.
To get involved with SOEA, call Bacon at 541-226-1124 or go to facebook.com/groups/southernoregonemergencyaid/.
Reach Illinois Valley freelance writer Annette McGee Rasch at email@example.com.
Chetco Bar 9-8