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Fire danger level drops; cool temps expected all week

The fire danger level across southwest Oregon has dropped another rung, thanks to some overnight rain and a forecast this week that does a pretty good impression of autumn.

Starting Monday, fire restrictions on the 1.8 million acres of land protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry's Southwest District decreased to "moderate."

That means anyone living on those lands wanting to mow dead or dry grass or do metal work that includes cutting, grinding or welding — any spark-emitting activity, really — now has more time to do it. At "high" fire danger, such activities were prohibited between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., according to ODF public information officer Melissa Cano.

"Now the cutoff time is 1 to 8 p.m.," Cano says. "So you have all morning up until 1 o'clock to get done with those projects."

Activities such as debris burning in piles and barrels, fireworks and exploding targets are still prohibited.

The decreased fire danger kicks off a week of temperatures expected in the 60s across the Rogue Valley. Parts of the Rogue and Illinois valleys received up to a tenth of an inch of rain overnight Sunday into Monday, according to the National Weather Service. And there's more to come.

"We'll see some showers increasing later on this afternoon into tonight," meteorologist Mike Petrucelli said Monday.

More showers are expected Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday morning, too, with activity beginning to dissipate Wednesday night into Thursday. The greatest precipitation amounts are expected along the coast and across the Cascade Range.

The weekend forecast points to drier conditions and warmer temperatures in the mid-70s to low 80s for valley areas.

"Friday will be a transition day," Petrucelli said.

The wet, cool weather helped air out the smoke that has affected southwest Oregon air quality since mid-August. Data from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality showed a sustained, 24-hour period of "good" air quality at DEQ stations in Medford, Ashland, Applegate, Cave Junction, Grants Pass, Shady Cove and Roseburg.

Fire crews battling wildland blazes across the region also continue to make progress on containment. The Chetco Bar fire, which grew to 189,787 acres Monday, was at 53 percent containment. The 578-acre Indigo fire burning nearby saw "minimal" growth, with crews continuing to work on containment lines on the fire's eastern edge.

"One-quarter to one-half inch of rain is expected in the fire area Tuesday and Wednesday," a daily bulletin on the Chetco Bar fire reads. "This is likely to significantly dampen fire activity for two days."

Fire officials also announced that all evacuation notices in and around the Curry County portion of the fire have been lifted. A Level 2 advisory — "get set" — remains in effect for residents of Illinois River Road, including the Oak Flat community, fire officials said. Those residents had been under a Level 3 — "go now" advisory until last Friday.

As much 1.5 inches could fall over the next several days on the High Cascades Complex burning near Crater Lake. That complex has grown to 63,216 acres and is considered 32 percent contained, according to the Incident Information System website. The Miller Complex, burning in the Applegate Valley, is 59 percent contained and is 35,845 acres, the site says.

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

Eric Barney of Medford takes advantage of cooler weather to ride in Prescott Park on Roxy Ann Peak in Medford Monday afternoon. [Mail tribune / Andy Atkinson]
Smoke drifts through trees on the eastern side of the High Cascades Complex, burning near Crater Lake. (Photo from Incident Information System website)