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Forestry crews snuff human-caused fire outside Gold Hill

GOLD HILL — A fire that burned about two acres in a dry, steep area outside Gold Hill Thursday afternoon was human-caused, Oregon Department of Forestry officials reported.

The fire was first reported at about 2:30 p.m. on McConville Peak, located six miles north of Gold Hill. ODF officials declined to comment on what they found at the scene that led them to believe the blaze was human-caused, but said it was obvious.

"There was clear evidence someone was doing something to cause that fire," said ODF spokesman Brian Ballou, adding it's not known if the party's actions were intentional or accidental, but he's leaning toward the former. "If it was accidental, it was foolishness."

The blaze drew an attack force of about 25 firefighters, five engines, three helicopters and a retardant drop from an airplane. Crews quenched the flames and will be back on scene today to make sure their efforts hold up. The fire was similar to the Applegate's lightning-sparked Old Blue Mountain Fire, as it was burning at a higher elevation.

"It could have spread up. It probably wouldn't have taken much longer to have a 15- to 20-acre fire," Ballou said.

Ballou estimated the total cost of fighting the flames at between $40,000 and $50,000 and said the agency is interested in recouping the costs if they find who is responsible.

In other years, such a sizable first response for a two-acre fire could be seen as overkill, but this summer's drought conditions and several rounds of recent thunderstorms that sparked lightning fires across Jackson County upped the ante.

"We've definitely turned up response this year," Ballou said.

Anyone with information about the fire's start is asked to contact ODF, either at 541-664-3328 or at 1-800-452-7888, and ask for a fire investigator. You may also email the department at firetips@odf.state.or.us.

— Ryan Pfeil