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Fire danger level hits extreme Thursday

Inflamed by ongoing broiling temperatures, the fire danger flickers up into the extreme range beginning Thursday in Jackson and Josephine counties.

With high temperatures in the triple digits expected to continue through Friday, the Oregon Department of Forestry is increasing the fire danger, which will ban the public use of chainsaws, mowing and cutting dead grass, welding and other potentially fire-starting activities between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.

The industrial fire precaution level will remain at Level 2.

New on the list of restrictions for the public is the use of tracer rounds and exploding targets, which are now banned around the clock except in designated shooting ranges, said Brian Ballou, spokesman for ODF's Southwest Oregon District.

An investigation into the cause of a recent fire on Anderson Butte determined it was ignited by tracer rounds used in target practice, he explained.

However, despite the recent high temperatures, the district hasn't been plagued with an exorbitant number of fires, he said.

"In general, people have been much more conscientious about not doing things that cause fires," he said. "But we have also been lucky in that we haven't had a lot of windy afternoons."

That could change, he warned, noting the potential for the current weather pattern to hang around into the fall.

"If we stay in this trend, there could be a complete shutdown on power equipment," he said of future restrictions on outside activity.

Extreme fire danger in the two counties is not unusual in August, he said, noting the fire danger was bumped up to the extreme range on Aug. 26 last year.

The increased fire danger also means additional restrictions on visitors to the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue River between the mouth of Grave Creek and Watson Creek.

Those new restrictions include:

  • No smoking except in boats on the water and naturally vegetation-free gravel bars and sandbars below the river's high-water mark.
  • All open fires are prohibited, including campfires, charcoal briquette fires, cooking fires and warming fires. However, portable cooking stoves using liquefied or bottled fuels are allowed on naturally vegetation-free gravel bars and sandbars below the high-water mark. Ashes must be carried out.
  • Travelers must carry a shovel and 1-gallon bucket.

Land protected by ODF crews includes private, county, state and U.S. Bureau of Land Management grass, brush and forest lands.

More information on the increased fire restrictions is available at www.swofire.oregon.gov.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service continues to battle three wildfires in the Fort Complex in the Rogue River-Siskiyou and Klamath national forests near the California-Oregon border, which grew to roughly 2,639 acres by Tuesday afternoon. The complex is now considered to be 17 percent contained, representing a 7 percent increase since Monday.

The largest is the 1,628-acre Goff fire in the Klamath's Happy Camp/Oak Knoll Ranger District high in the Klamath River drainage. The Hello/Fruit fire in the Red Buttes Wilderness is at 608 acres, while the Lick fire has burned about 403 acres just outside the wilderness. Both the Hello/Fruit and Lick fires are in the Siskiyou Mountain Ranger District.

Roughly 680 firefighters are assigned to the fires, which were started by an Aug. 5 lightning storm.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.