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Klamathon fire officials cautiously optimistic

Fire bosses late Wednesday confirmed the 36,500-acre Klamathon burn destroyed 35 homes, killed one man, sent 152 people to shelters in Yreka and — given potential monsoonal weather expected from the south Thursday and Friday — still could see lightning spawn some ignition of more fires.

At another public information gathering at Ashland Hills Hotel, they said the Klamathon fire was now 60 percent contained. CalFire representatives were hopeful about the possibility of going home this weekend, said Fire Behavior Analyst Tim Chavez.

Lt. Rick Kennedy of the Jackson County Sheriff’s office said the level-3 mandatory evacuation area south of Soda Mountain from I-5 to the Klamath County line, including Colestin Valley, has been downgraded to level-2 (be ready), while the area south of Highway 66 is now level one.

“But, by no means are we through,” said Oregon Department of Forestry Incident Commander Bill Hunt, “especially on the northern portion in Oregon. And weather is going to get hotter and drier.”

“We’re definitely on the downslope, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” said CalFire Operations Chief Mark Brown.

Making a “robust effort” with state and federal agencies, National Guard and Red Cross, Siskiyou County has restored electricity to hard-hit Hornbrook and now has non-potable water flowing to taps, but is still supplying bottled water for drinking and cooking, said Sheriff Jon Lopey.

Previously evacuated areas of Hornbrook, Copco, Iron Gate, Hilt and Klamath River Country Estates were all “repopulated” by Tuesday evening, he said.

Lopey toured these areas and said there were very few behavioral problems, even though many people have “lost everything, homes, vehicles, pets” and are getting much support from the community.

Fire officials cautioned that most big burns are started by carelessness and that no one should run mowers or such machines anywhere after 10 a.m.

Although they declined to speculate on any cause of the blaze, Kennedy said, “I can guarantee you it was human-caused. There wasn’t a speck of lightning anywhere around and fire season has just begun.”

Several hundred locals attended the earlier public meeting on Monday evening but non-smoky skies and positive attitudes kept the crowd to 25 or so on Wednesday.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Photo by Tobias CarrierA photo taken Friday night, July 6, from Mount Ashland Ski Area Road shows the glow of the Klamathon fire nearing the Oregon border.