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Where there's smoke, there's fire ... for at least a week

A fire in the Umpqua National Forest that filled the Rogue Valley with smoke Friday night may continue to pump smoke into the valley for at least a week, forecasters say.

The Williams Creek fire, which started Wednesday, spread to nearly 3,000 acres by this morning, according to a Forest Service spokesman. The fire east of Glide is 20 percent contained, but not expected to be brought under control for another week because of terrain.

A voluntary evacuation of Steamboat Inn resort took place Friday, fire information spokesman Bernie Pineda said.

“We're talking about less than 10 people, because they had been talking to (expected) guests about the fire,” Pineda said. A second evacuation, involving a half-dozen homes, may follow along Moore Hill Road if the fire grows.

A 10-mile section of Highway 138, which connects the Umpqua Valley with Diamond Lake and Crater Lake National Park, has been closed since the middle of the week.

Winds out of the north and northeast carried the smoke into the Rogue Valley late Friday.

“When fires get going up in Douglas County, the northerly winds suck that smoke down across the Umpqua Divide into the valley,” said Rick Holtz of the National Weather Service in Medford.

“Once this stuff gets funneled into the valley, there is no place for it to go. When the winds calm, there was nothing to stir it out and (the smoke) just sits here in the valley. I wouldn't be surprised if maybe we didn't have to deal with something similar later this afternoon or evening where we could see a little increase of smoke in the valley.”

Until firefighters get a handle on the fire and reduce the smoke, he said, the pattern will continue.

“I wouldn't be surprised if this is going to be a long-term thing,” Holtz said. “Right now the fire isn't all that big.”

He didn't anticipate the air quality to become hazardous, however.

Some 612 firefighters, aided by five helicopters, 30 engines, two bulldozers and seven water tenders, are on the scene.

“We're looking at least this week before we get it contained,” Pineda said. “And it may bleed into the following week.”