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'Groundhog Day' for wildland firefighters

Jackson County has been the star of nature's worst version of "Groundhog Day" the last several days: lightning barrage, wildfire starts, repeat. 

A new wildfire near Butte Falls, the Double Day Fire, grew to 4 acres Thursday afternoon near Highway 140 and Obenchain Road. The fire is burning in an area with heavy timber and tall brush along a steep slope, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. More lighting was forecast for Thursday night into Friday morning.

The Spruce Lake fire, one of two lighting-caused fires burning near Crater Lake National Park, faces another red flag warning Thursday afternoon because of forecasts calling for more lightning and continued dry conditions. The fire is at 4,734 acres and 31 percent contained, with 384 personnel fighting the blaze, including two hotshot crews, four engines and one bulldozer.

Lightning sparked other blazes across southwest Oregon Wednesday night into Thursday:

  • The Stratton Creek fire, which started seven miles northwest of Merlin in Josephine County, had grown to 30 acres by Wednesday night. It originated as three separate fires burning in terrain consisting of brush and timber on the north side of the Rogue River near the Hellgate Canyon Bridge, according to the ODF. Two of those fires merged, though crews had completed a fire line around that portion and were working on mop-up Thursday, Cano said. The third fire has been knocked down. Air operations resumed Thursday.
  • The 10-acre Reuben fire, which started Wednesday about five miles north of the Grave Creek Bridge, has been knocked down and lined. Crews continued mop-up operations through Wednesday night.
  • The Doe Spring fire, burning near the border of Josephine and Douglas counties north of Mount Reuben, was at just under 7 acres Wednesday night. ODF and the Douglas Forest Protective Association continue their work to beat back the flames.

National Weather Service officials expect the low pressure system that's been wreaking all the havoc to move on by Friday. Temperatures are also expected to temper slightly, down to the low 90s on Saturday and Sunday.

"It’ll feel drastically cooler compared to 112 the other week," said meteorologist Misty Firmin.

The Blanket Creek fire, the other fire near Crater Lake located six miles from Prospect, has grown to 4,800 acres and is 39 percent contained. Efforts from 771 personnel include more than 12 miles of line carved around the western flank. The crews are working with 18 engines, 14 water tenders, four bulldozers and seven helicopters.

During a 24-hour period that stretched into Thursday morning, Jackson County saw 79 more air-to-ground strikes. About 10 of those lanced down during the bustle of nighttime activity over the western portion of the county, with a majority leaping from cloud to cloud, Firmin said.

As the storm clouds start to head for the exits, fire crews continue to work on extinguishing the flames they caused.

The Flounce fire, burning just north of Lost Creek Lake, is holding steady at just under 700 acres following another round of rainfall on the flames, Oregon Department of Forestry officials said. The rain has helped hinder the fire's growth, but crews will be taking a more cautious approach because of the moisture's potential impact on destabilizing the terrain.

"They will still be working on the fire, but they will be taking a more slow and steady approach today," ODF public information officer Melissa Cano said Thursday.

The blaze is 10 percent contained, and a Level 1 evacuation advisory — "get ready" — for dozens of residents living south of the fire remains in effect.

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

Crews continue to work on containing the Flounce fire, burning north of Lost Creek Lake. [Submitted Photo, Oregon Department of Forestry]