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Weather could bring trouble

CAVE JUNCTION ' Defensive firelines built to stop the Florence and Sour Biscuit fires may be tested today.

— — — Related story:

. — — The humidity is expected to drop while the temperature is predicted to rise and the winds increase late this afternoon.

I'm very optimistic, but I'm also cautious ' the weather is changing tomorrow, said Forest Service spokesman Tom Valluzzi late Tuesday evening. It's going to be hotter, drier and windier.

And the winds will be from the northwest, he said. That'll be the first real test of the firelines.

Firefighters have built more than 30 miles of firelines from Selma to the California state line to contain the east side of the 241,300-acre Florence and 44,000-acre Sour Biscuit fires burning in the Siskiyou National Forest.

The Florence fire is about 10 percent contained, while the Sour Biscuit is 15 percent contained.

In addition to digging in a fireline with a fleet of bulldozers, hand crews and explosives, firefighters also have been burning out forested areas between the fireline and the main body of the fires. Most of the burning out was completed Tuesday.

We're slowly closing her off, fire behavior analyst Erik Christiansen told The Associated Press.

The two fires are now a mile apart about eight miles west of O'Brien.

With the threat of fire diminished in the Illinois Valley, the estimated 20,000 residents are now on a four-hour evacuation advisory. At one point last week, they were placed on a 30-minute evacuation notice.

However, the continued threat prompted Cave Junction Mayor Ed Faircloth to cancel the annual Blackberry Festival, which was to begin Saturday. The festival was expected to draw an additional 5,000 people to the valley.

Four homes and eight outbuildings along a remote area of the Illinois River west of Selma have been burned by the Florence fire. Both fires were sparked by a lightning storm July 13.

Firefighters continued to dig in firelines along the north flank of the Florence fire. That edge is about six miles from the small community of Agness, located on the mouth of the Illinois River where it flows into the Rogue.

Meanwhile, fire officials in Northern California continue to battle the roughly 24,000-acre portion of the Sour Biscuit fire that has advanced to within about four miles of the town of Gasquet.

If the fire approaches within another mile of the town, it will trigger an evacuation advisory, said Forest Service spokeswoman Terry Knupp.

But firefighters have had a real good day, she said Tuesday evening. They've successfully completed most of the burnout on the northeast flank of the fire in California.

Our charge is to get some more fireline and a burnout zone around it, she added. Once we get that, we start working on mopping up.

Highway 199 is now open. However, motorists should expect periodic delays because of continued firefighting.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at