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Onion Mountain fire 5 percent contained, passes 3,700-acre mark

GRANTS PASS — The wildfire burning 12 miles southwest of Grants Pass continues to gain ground, creeping closer to the 4,000-acre mark as crews reach 5 percent containment. 

As of today, the Onion Mountain fire, which flared up Saturday, has burned 3,735 acres, according to fire officials. There are currently 514 firefighters combating the flames, both from the air with helicopter water bucket drops and tanker retardant drops and on the ground with crews and dozers drawing lines. 

Dave Schmitt, a public information officer with Oregon Interagency Incident Management Team No. 1, said the fire continues to burn to the north through terrain that is difficult to access because of heavy timber. The Incident Information System website says the flames are expected to continue burning in a northerly direction for at least the next two days. Crews are currently, working on the north, east and south sides of the fire, drawing containment lines and trying to stop the blaze's spread.

In addition to personnel, 13 helicopters, two air tankers, 21 fire engines, four dozers and five water tenders are working to beat back the flames.

Anticipated cloud cover with a chance of rain for the area could be a blessing and a curse for fire crews, Schmitt said. The cloud cover will mean cooler temperatures that can help slow the fire, but that also grounds water and retardant drops until the skies clear.

"(But) definitely the cooler weather helps," Schmitt said.

The fire's cause has not yet been established.

Level one evacuation advisories — be ready to leave at a moment's notice — remain in effect for the Pickett Creek area, including Pickett Creek and West Pickett Creek roads, and all connecting roads; everything north of the Robertson Bridge on the Rogue River's west side, Shan Creek Road from Riverbanks Road to the west; Riverbanks Road from Limpy Creek Road to the Robertson Bridge; Limpy Creek Road from Riverbanks Road to the west; and all of Taylor Creek Road including the U.S. Forest Service road system from Galice Road, which includes the FS 2509 Road connection that enters Highway 199 at the top of Hayes Hill.

The Josephine County Sheriff's Department reported access to the fire area is limited, with multiple roadblocks on all sides of the blaze. The sheriff's office has said the Robertson Bridge is not closed and that mandatory evacuations are not being ordered, despite rumors or calls to the contrary.

Wildfire smoke from Onion Mountain and other area fires like the 375-acre Boles fire in Weed, Calif., has dropped Medford and Grants Pass into the "unhealthy" category for air quality over the past 24 hours, according to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality data.

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