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Gap fire eclipses 17,500 acres

Cooler and moist marine air Thursday slowed the growth of Northern California's Gap fire as it eclipsed 17,500 acres, but officials said it stayed within containment lines, and that led to the lifting of mandatory evacuation notices in place since Monday.

After growing more than 4,000 acres between Wednesday and Thursday mornings, largely from fuel-robbing back burns, the fire grew just more than 500 acres during the day Thursday to officially reach 17,509 acres by Thursday evening, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

It was listed late Thursday at 10 percent contained inside the Klamath National Forest.

After days of growing exponentially through fire-ripe fuels amid high temperatures and low humidities, the Gap fire slowed on its own thanks in part to cooler and more-moist marine air, fire officials said.

The easing of evacuation notices from mandatory to voluntary Thursday night also came with the closing of the shelter in nearby Yreka, but it could be re-opened if the community needs it, the Forest Service said late Thursday.

The Incident Information System website showed the fire burning about 5 miles east of Seiad, Calif., and the cause remains under investigation, though it is likely human-caused since the National Weather Service reports no lightning strikes in the rugged, remote area well before its discovery Saturday evening.

The fire found its initial momentum Sunday, burning 23 structures in the Seiad Valley, including nine houses. One of those houses, near Horse Creek, belonged to U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighter Denice Edgar. Edgar's sister Niki Edgar, said the fire also destroyed multiple vehicles, a boat and two trailers. Denice Edgar had been living there with a family member and a friend, according to a Go Fund Me page, which Niki Edgar created.

"She has been working on this house, building it, building a huge garden, working on it for years," Niki Edgar said in a telephone interview. "I knew starting life over from scratch, she was really going to need the help."

The Go Fund Me page had raised close to $11,000 by Thursday. Multiple attempts to reach Denice Edgar by phone were unsuccessful.

Crews at the fire continued to bolster containment lines in an attempt to keep the fire cordoned within a boundary north of the Klamath River and Highway 96, east of Seiad Creek, west of the 2014 Beaver fire footprint and south of the Siskiyou Crest.

Smoke from the fire spilled into the Rogue Valley Thursday, but the National Weather Service has forecast it to thin significantly for the next several days.

"Westerly to northwesterly flow aloft should keep smoke from the Gap fire south and east of the Oregon/California border through the weekend," an NWS Facebook post stated Thursday.

The U.S. Forest Service's emergency closure on some Klamath and Rogue River-Siskiyou national forest lands remains in effect.

The closure 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 (Forest Road No. 47N01) to the intersection of Beaver Creek Road (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.

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.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil. Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman contributed to this report.

View of the Gap Fire burning in Northern California, where it has destroyed 23 structures, including nine houses. photo by Will Harling.