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Wind keeps fire from Agness

Residents are warned to be ready to leave on 24 hours notice

From wire and staff reports

Residents of the hamlet of Agness held their ground Wednesday as prevailing winds kept the massive Florence fire at bay and firefighters extended defense lines.

It's hard for us to wait for the fire to come closer. But we all know it's the only thing we can do, said Willis Crouse, a carpenter, fishing guide and volunteer firefighter, after spending the night knocking on his neighbors' doors alerting them to ready to evacuate on 24 hours notice.

Nobody is leaving, despite the warning, Crouse said. They are all individualists. They mostly built their own houses. People born here are pretty much planted here. They're not going to move an inch.

The Florence and Sour Biscuit fires have burned more than 285,000 acres on the Siskiyou National Forest in southwestern Oregon since lightning struck July 13. The two fires burned together Wednesday. With both now referred to as the Florence fire, the massive blaze was 15 percent contained, authorities said.

The northern flank of Florence stood three miles from a cluster of homes at Oak Flat on the Illinois River, where Crouse lives, and six miles from Agness, which has a post office, library, museum, a half-dozen lodges and a couple convenience stores. The community of about 150 residents is at the confluence of the Illinois and Rogue Rivers about 25 miles inland from Gold Beach.

The southwestern flank was within six miles of a subdivision known as Wilderness Retreat on the Chetco River east of Brookings, which is home to about 15 families. Some residents have left, though no formal evacuation warning is in place, said fire spokeswoman Susan Mathison.

Weather forecasters called for warmer and drier air. Although winds out of the northeast cleared the area of smoke and blew the north end of the fire in on itself, fire commanders worried that a change in weather could whip up the fires and send them roaring in any direction, said fire spokesman Dick Fleishman.

The threat on the eastern front of the fire to the 17,000 residents of the Illinois Valley diminished as crews burned out the last few miles of the southern end of a 40-mile containment line protecting O'Brien, Cave Junction, Kerby and Selma.

At another cluster of homes on the Illinois River also called Oak Flat, Kathy Krauss got her first look at her family's vacation cabin, and those of neighbors which survived the fire. Four homes and eight outbuildings burned.

I guess it's nice that the cabins were saved, but it's hard to be too happy about it when you see the forest itself, said Krauss. That's the sad part.

The area along Briggs Creek, where the family has fond memories of fishing and hiking, was hard-hit by the fire, leaving little but blackened trees, baked earth and a charred cheese smell, Krauss said.

Other fires burning in the region included:

Tiller complex, 32,005 acres, Umpqua National Forest near Tiller, 25 percent contained.

Monument fire, 24,378 acres, outside Unity, 95 percent contained.

Timbered Rock fire, 27,145, outside Shady Cove, 90 percent contained.

Shelly Creek fire, 850 acres, above Highway 199 northeast of Gasquet, Calif., 100 percent contained.

National Interagency Fire Center: