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Evacuations ordered as Sams Valley wildfire grows

A team of crews was working through the night to tackle a wildfire near Sams Valley that has already claimed a structure, closed a nine-mile section of East Evans Creek Road and prompted evacuations.

In the span of hours Friday afternoon and evening, the East Evans Creek Road Fire expanded from an estimated five acres in rural Jackson County to a figure closer to 300 acres, according to Oregon Department of Forestry spokeswoman Natalie Weber. It forced the evacuation of five homes with more on alert.

Weber said ODF first spotted a column of smoke at 2 p.m. and immediately dispatched eight engines, four helicopters, five single-engine air tankers and two large air-attack planes to the scene.

“We started sending resources — as many as we had,” Weber said in a phone call Friday evening

The wildfire grew to a 250-acre footprint by about 4:47 p.m., and 300 acres by 8 p.m., according to Weber and ODF releases.

Just before 5 p.m. Friday, Jackson County sheriff’s deputies ordered five residences to evacuate immediately in the 18500 block of East Evans Creek Road near Meadows Road, as the rapidly-growing wildfire burned in the area, and closed off a portion of the road. Other residences in the area were issued Level 1 or “Be Ready” evacuation notices — the lowest-severity of three evacuation levels — and law enforcement asked people to avoid the area.

The fire is burning away from houses, according to ODF, describing the Level 3 “Go” evacuations as a safety precaution.

Additional resources that were called in as the fire progressed included a Rogue Valley Strike Team, one very large air tanker, another two helicopters, and a helitack unit, according to Weber.

By 7 p.m., repeated retardant drops were used to mitigate the initial spread of the fire and create a temporary fire line.

Overnight, six engines, eight 20-person hand crews, seven bulldozers and two water tenders fought the fire.

National Weather Service meteorologists in Medford observed weather phenomenon Friday evening above the fire known as a pyrocumulus cloud, according to a post on the agency’s Facebook page. Pyrocumulus clouds are an indicator of rapid fire growth, and have the potential to cause dangerous weather on the ground such as strong winds.

Nine miles of East Evans Creek Road was closed near the intersections of Meadows and May Creek roads due to wildfire, according to a Jackson County Roads release, between mileposts 8 and 17.

Along with ODF, the Rogue Valley Wildland Strike team, made up of six county agencies, also responded and is assisting with the fire, according to a post from Jackson County Fire District 5’s firefighters Facebook page.

“Crews are staffing a brush unit and a water tender as part of the Rogue Valley Wildland Strike Team,” the post reads.

The strike team is composed of personnel from Jackson County Fire District 3, Jackson County Fire District 5, Medford Fire-Rescue, the Rogue River Fire District, Ashland Fire & Rescue and the Illinois Valley Fire District.

Earlier this year, ODF crews battled the Neil Rock fire in the nearby Ramsey Canyon area. That fire was lined a day later.

In 2018, the Ramsey Canyon conflagration reached 1,971 acres, according to the final update from Inciweb.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Reach reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or ktornay@rosebudmedia.com.

ODF Southwest Oregon District photo