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At the ready

SEIAD VALLEY — Drop Point 30 looks like several other spots along this stretch of Highway 96 outside Horse Creek, Calif.: emergency vehicles parked at the ready, fire personnel checking maps and speaking into handheld radios, portable toilets and stacks of water bottles and sports drinks visible through a marinade of thick smoke.

Crews at these drop points are standing guard in case the nearly 13,000-acre Gap fire jumps the Klamath River again and starts burning south. Just across the river to the north, crews attack the fire in the smoke-choked woods.

"We've got (units) strung out on structure protection. We've got like eight houses over here," says firefighter division group supervisor Terry Lim as he gestures to the west. "We've got a strike team of engines down there in case this fire does go to the south side of the road. We're doing points of protection around the structures, and anytime we get a spot across the road, we can get resources to it."

The Gap fire had burned through 12,829 acres as of Wednesday morning. Drought, erratic winds and a heavy abundance of fuels gave the fire ferocious momentum Sunday, destroying nine houses and 14 outbuildings in its path.

Twice so far the fire has spotted and jumped the river, and twice crews have been able to pounce quickly enough to stop the fire from racing into the mountains.

"You have some very, very rugged country, so it's getting crews in, getting equipment in (and) you also have the summer," says public information officer Mike Theune. "It's the hottest part of the year, and also things are very, very dry."

Fire officials say the fire was at about 5 percent containment Wednesday. In addition to the goal on the southern flank, crews hope to keep the flames east of Seiad Creek, west of the 2014 Beaver fire footprint and south of the Siskiyou Crest.

"Buttoning that up is a big priority," says public information officer Adrienne Freeman.

No mandatory evacuations were in place Wednesday, but evacuation advisories remained in effect for residents of Hamburg, Horse Creek and Scott Bar. No injuries have been reported so far.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Anyone with information on the cause is asked to call U.S. Forest Service law enforcement at 530-841-4474. Callers should leave a message on a recorded line with a phone number. They can also call the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office at 530-841-2900.

Smoke and ash from the fire surged into the Rogue Valley early this week, leaving a gray-black glaze on cars, sidewalks and buildings.

The valley got a bit of a reprieve Tuesday and Wednesday, with smoke visible but sticking mostly to higher elevations. Winds are expected to shift Thursday evening, which could push the smoke to the south and east, meteorologist Marc Spilde says.

Smoke remains thick along Highway 96.

The U.S. Forest Service instituted an emergency closure on some Klamath and Rogue River-Siskiyou national forest lands Wednesday "to provide for public safety and to facilitate wildfire suppression efforts around the Gap fire," according to an agency news release.

The closure boundary starts at the intersection of Highway 96 and the Pacific Crest Trail and travels north and east to the intersection of the PCT and Forest Road No. 47N01 at Warps Gap. It continues southeast along the northeastern edge of West Beaver Road (or Forest Road No. 47N01) to the intersection of Beaver Creek Road, or Forest Road 11. It then travels south along the western edge of Beaver Creek Road to the Highway 96 intersection, then west along the northern edge of Highway 96 back to its intersection with the PCT.

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


Smoke from the Gap fire settles over the Klamath River on Wednesday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
The Gap fire, which sparked Saturday, had burned through 12,829 acres as of Wednesday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch