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Firefighters, helicopters, tankers hammer fire near Eagle Point

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Firefighters on the ground and a steady stream of helicopters and air tankers in the sky kept a wildfire outside Eagle Point largely contained Friday.

The Worthington fire about 5 miles northeast of Eagle Point erupted Thursday and quickly grew to 500 acres by evening, forcing Level 3 “go” evacuations along the 1500 and 3200 blocks of Worthington Road.

Aggressive efforts continued overnight, and on Friday, the fire was holding largely steady at 600 acres by afternoon on a mix of private property and Bureau of Land Management land. Cooler temperatures and higher humidity during the night helped, fire officials said.

“We had a really good night. We got fire line around 90% of the fire,” Brian Ballou, public information officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest Oregon District, said Friday afternoon.

The goals for firefighters on Friday included finishing and reinforcing the fire line and mopping up flames inside the border. They also had to guard against increasing afternoon winds, Ballou said.

With their ability to maneuver with precision, helicopters targeted hot spots in an effort to keep them from flaring up.

Large air tankers led by small guide planes dropped lines of red retardant on the hillsides, flew to the air tanker base next to the airport in Medford for refills, then circled back again for more runs at the fire.

Trail resident Randi Eggleston and her boyfriend Gavin Rapp came to watch the fast-growing fire on Thursday, then came back in the Friday afternoon heat to deliver cases of water to firefighters and Jackson County Sheriff’s Office deputies. The sheriff’s office was manning a roadblock on Worthington Road, letting residents, firefighters and a few others through.

Eggleston said she and Rapp wanted to help those on the fire stay hydrated.

Both said the fire’s spread was frightening on Thursday, and they were amazed to learn firefighters had lined the most of the fire and kept it mostly under control as of Friday afternoon.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone who’s fighting this fire. I hope everyone stays safe, and you guys are doing an absolutely amazing job,” Eggleston said.

Rapp said Southern Oregon summers are often marked by bad wildfires, but this year widespread smoke would be even worse than usual because of COVID-19 restrictions on people’s activities. He was grateful to crews keeping the Worthington fire hemmed in.

Resources on the fire Friday included 250 personnel, six dozers, eight 20-person hand crews, three water tenders, seven helicopters and at least two air tankers.

Fire officials said additional air and ground resources will be called in if needed.

Friday marked the official beginning of “extreme” fire danger on ODF-protected lands. Use of power equipment, including chainsaws, is banned in dry vegetation.

“I think this fire underscores how dry it is. This fire just flat got going and would not be stopped,” Ballou said.

So far, crews throughout Southern Oregon have been able to aggressively attack and contain fires, preventing major conflagrations. That means when fires like the Worthington fire break out, resources aren’t stretched thin and firefighters and aerial resources can hammer new starts.

Ballou said firefighters, water tenders, bulldozers, helicopters and other resources flowed to the Worthington fire beginning Thursday.

“It was just a continuous stream of people and hardware coming in until well after midnight,” he said on Friday.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Firefighters make their way into position at a fire burning near Eagle Point on Friday.
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Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Retardant is dropped on a fire burning near Eagle Point on Friday.