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The curtain drops on Southwest Oregon fire season

Overnight rain — and even some snow in a few spots — across Southwest Oregon delivered the knockout punch to the 2014 fire season on wildlands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry.

The 136-day season that kicked off earlier than usual — June 2 as opposed to the typical mid-June start date — was cut short with the new moisture. The National Weather Service reported Grants Pass received nearly seven-tenths of an inch over 24 hours, with six-tenths falling at Diamond Lake and three-tenths falling over Medford and Central Point during the same time period. Snow fell at elevations of 5,000 feet and above, with traces reported at Diamond Lake and Mount Ashland. Crater Lake received three to four inches of new snow, the Weather Service said.

"It was a really good rainfall. We always wait for a good rain before we can feel comfortable ending fire season. And we got it," said ODF spokesman Brian Ballou. "The number of fires we've been having lately has really trickled off, and the weather's been getting much more cooperative."

Showers are expected to fall across parts of the county through today, with a Thursday lull and a slight chance for additional rain Friday.

The close of fire season means restrictions on equipment use and debris burning have been lifted. Individual fire districts still require permits for debris burning, however.

The 2014 fire season saw 280 fires that burned 9,559 acres on ODF-protected forestlands. A majority of the acreage — 8,306 acres — came from the Jackson County portion of the Oregon Gulch fire, which roared to life July 30 and spread east into Klamath County and south into Northern California. The fire burned 35,129 acres total. The Salt Creek fire, which burned 155 acres of forestland about eight miles west of Shady Cove, was also snuffed by ODF crews.

Close to 100 of the fires were caused by lightning during thunderstorms that moved across the area July 11, 22 and 29, and Aug. 11 and 18.

"The biggest nuisance we had all summer was just the relentless lightning," Ballou said.

The total acreage does not include the 4,105-acre Onion Mountain fire, a blaze on federal land 15 miles west of Grants Pass that flared up Sept. 13. Crews contained that fire about nine days later.

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