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Storm pushes Rogue River Drive fire outside fire lines

Erratic winds Tuesday afternoon pushed a wildfire burning just southwest of Shady Cove over its containment lines and toward residences in the area, fire officials said. 

Reported Monday, the Rogue River Drive fire has consumed about 200 acres, 120 of which burned Tuesday after flames jumped containment lines, said Don Hickman, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry. 

"We had a cell that moved over this fire early (Tuesday) afternoon and the erratic winds blew it out on the south and southeast containment lines," Hickman said. "The fire slopped over and basically it took off."

The fire started around 4:30 p.m. Monday in the area of Rogue River Drive and Dry Creek Road, and grew to about 80 acres before crews were able to knock it down and get it under control. Flames threatened about 15 homes Monday evening, Hickman said.

Residents living along Dry Creek Road southwest of Shady Cove were asked to immediately leave their homes Tuesday afternoon due to the fire's increased activity, a Jackson County Sheriff's Office press release said.

However, Hickman said, only three homes are occupied in the area and all of the residents opted to stay and defend their property from the looming fire. 

Hickman said bulldozers are building line around the homes, and crews are standing by to provide structure protection if need be. 

A level 1  — "be ready to go" — evacuation notice has been issued for all residences located from the 3000 block of Rogue River Drive to the road's intersection with Rhodes Lane and residences located along Kitty and Osprey drives. 

Late Tuesday, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act to help battle the blaze. 

The governor’s declaration authorizes the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal to mobilize firefighters and equipment to assist local fire districts that are concentrating their efforts on protecting structures.

A pair of air tankers and a Boeing DC-10 "very large air tanker," or VLAT, dropping retardant and six helicopters dropping water worked to control the advancing flames from the air Tuesday, Hickman said.

"The helicopters were dipping from the Rogue River, so they were able to make some really fast turns on this thing," Hickman said, late Tuesday. "The fire has really laid down, and it's giving us an opportunity to do direct attack ... we're hoping to make good progress."

Hickman said at least 100 firefighters are on scene. 

Rogue River Drive remains closed, he said. 

Tuesday's storm put down 101 lightning strikes across Jackson County Tuesday, said Jay Stockton, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service in Medford.

Most of those strikes were recorded in the area surrounding Prospect and Union Creek, Stockton said. 

Although Medford and other areas of the Rogue Valley experienced hard downpours of rain momentarily, little accumulation was recorded anywhere in the county, he said. 

Today should bring more thunderstorms but widespread rainfall as well, Stockton said. 

Meanwhile, crews have located about 15 fires — all less than a half acre — burning in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Most are burning in the SIskiyou Mountains and High Cascades ranger districts with a few located in the Wild Rivers Ranger District, said Scott Blower, a spokesman with the forest. 

Also Tuesday, strong winds shoved over a power line on Highway 238 west of Murphy, sparking a fire that spread to nearby grasslands and an outbuilding, closing one lane of the highway.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at


A plane drops retardant on a fire burning near Shady Cove Tuesday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch