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Wildfires spring up from dry weather pattern

Federal and state forestry crews battled two unusually early wildfires Friday that were sparked in logging debris at opposite ends of Jackson County.

Crews from the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry worked to contain the Alder Creek fire outside Shady Cove, which started at about 2 p.m. Thursday and had grown to 125 acres by Friday. In Ashland, an 8-acre fire was doused near a fuels-reduction burn pile near the Horn Gap trailhead.

"These were piles (of logging debris) lit in early December and late November," said Grayback Forestry President Mike Wheelock, who sent firefighting crews to both fires. "It's quite unusual this time of year to have a holdover that long. It's a sign of the drought conditions we've had."

In a normal winter, the piles would've been doused by rain.

The Alder Creek fire was burning in private timberland about 15 miles up Elk Creek Road and about 16 miles northeast of Shady Cove, said Caitlin Goins, spokeswoman for ODF's Southwest Oregon District.

Four engines, two water tenders and two 20-person hand crews flocked to the scene to draw fire lines and confront the blaze. A containment estimate was not available Friday.

No structures were threatened, but the dry landscape and winds had firefighters worried.

"It is very concerning," Goins said. "It's very dry out there."

Crews from the Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Grayback Forestry and Lomakatsi Restoration Project contained the 8-acre fire Friday in the Ashland watershed. The fire was reported Thursday night on Forest Service Road 2060.

Elsewhere in Oregon, crews from the Coos Forest Protective Association were battling a 300-acre blaze called the Bone Mountain fire, which was burning six miles south of Remote, while the 40-acre Camas Creek fire was burning about seven miles northeast of Remote.

In the Astoria District, between Arch Capes and Manzanita, ODF and partner fire agencies were fighting the 50-acre Falcon fire and the nearby 30-acre Shingle Mill fire. Both were in logging debris that had been burned recently to prepare the site for replanting. Homes in the Arch Cape area were not threatened.

"I have never experienced this in January," said Ashley Lertora from ODF's Astoria office. "Usually we have enough rain that burning slash is a safe operation. This time, we just didn't get as much as we expected based on the forecasts."

In the North Cascade District, five fires between 1 and 200 acres were burning Friday.

The National Weather Service issued a red-flag wildfire warning for Southern Oregon Thursday and Friday.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Jeff Barnard of The Associated Press contributed to this story.