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Lightning sparks new fires in Applegate

APPLEGATE — Fire officials are advising residents in the Humbug Creek Road area to be ready to evacuate because of an about 100-acre wildfire burning nearby.

The Old Blue Mountain fire, sparked by lightning Monday about eight miles south of Rogue River, has grown to about 100 acres, Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Brian Ballou said, Tuesday evening.

A level 1 evacuation advisory — "be ready" — covers all homes on the left fork of Humbug Creek Road, and addresses 2542 and higher on Humbug Creek Road's main fork.

Nine wildland crews, four air tankers, eight helicopters, 12 engines, three bulldozers and three water tenders were working to contain the flames. Ballou said firefighters have drawn a containment line around 85 percent of the fire and considered the blaze to be 30 percent contained. Crews are accessing the fire from the right fork of Foots Creek Road and have put up roadblocks.

Ballou said northwesterly winds Tuesday meant most of the fire's growth was on the south side of Old Blue Mountain, but a 100-acre estimate bumped up from 60 acres Tuesday evening had more to do with better mapping than actual fire growth. 

He said crews planned to work through the night on the fire.

Lightning sparked seven additional fires, but none had exceeded an acre on Tuesday, ODF officials said. The Ferris Gulch No. 1 and No. 2 fires, about five miles west of Applegate, were one-tenth of an acre and one acre, respectively. The Grays Creek and Sterling Creek fires, located south of Williams, were one-tenth of an acre and a half-acre, respectively. The Little Sugar Loaf fire, six miles south of Williams, was about three-quarters of an acre.

Oregon Belle, about two and a half miles north of Ruch, was one-tenth of an acre, and the Dick George 989 fire, three miles southeast of Cave Junction, is one-hundredth of an acre.

The National Weather Service reported 70 lightning strikes between 3 and 8 p.m. Monday in Jackson and Josephine counties. In Siskiyou County, about 90 strikes were documented between noon and 6 p.m.

Weather officials said they expect calmer weather today, with a high of 95 degrees and no thunderstorms predicted for the Rogue Valley. The calmer, warm weather is expected to last the rest of the week.

ODF officials expect fire season to last longer than normal this year. Restrictions on ODF-protected lands typically lift sometime in October, but there have been years when they haven't eased until November.

"This could be one of those years," Ballou said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.