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New wildfires crop up near Talent, Cave Junction

Continued dry conditions led to new wildfires around the Rogue Valley, despite help from Tuesday night rains.

Medford-based crews in the multi-jurisdictional Wildland Strike team assisted the Illinois Valley Fire District in containing a 3-acre grass fire that closed traffic on Highway 199 Wednesday afternoon near Airport Drive in Cave Junction. The grass fire had been knocked down as of 4:20 p.m., according to the Oregon Department of Forestry, and the Oregon Department of Transportation reopened the roadways with 20-minute delays as of 5:53 p.m.

Two homes were threatened in the blaze. The fire continued to burn Wednesday evening at an auto wrecking yard, where the blaze was sending plumes of black smoke visible for miles. The homes remained on Level 2 evacuation notice.

Crews also battled a 2-acre fire near Anderson Butte close to Talent on Wednesday. The fire moved at a slow rate of speed through old-growth and didn't threaten any structures.

Lighting strikes in the hundreds between Tuesday into Wednesday morning sparked several new fires on ODF lands. Though many have been largely knocked down or contained, crews continue to battle the newly sparked Reuben fire burning five miles north of the Grave Creek Bridge, estimated at 5 acres midday Wednesday. The blaze has drawn more than 30 firefighters and several aircraft to the site, along with several helicopters and tanker aircraft.

Jackson County recorded 241 strikes in the 24-hour period leading up to 7 a.m. Wednesday, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Brad Schaaf. Nine struck Josephine County, 102 struck Klamath County and 56 hit Douglas County, Schaaf said.

Crews battling a wildfire burning near Lost Creek Lake got a welcome assist from a downpour that punched through Jackson County Tuesday night. As of midday Wednesday, the fire was holding at about 600 acres.

Firefighters on the lightning-sparked Flounce blaze, which has nearby residents under a Level 1 — "get ready" — evacuation advisory, were able to get close to the fire and build sturdy hand lines on the fire's eastern and western flanks because of rainfall.

"That weather changed everything," said Melissa Cano, Oregon Department of Forestry public information officer. "For the better. For this particular fire. It was really good progress."

The night rain soaked several spots across the Rogue Valley. Eagle Point received more than inch, according to the National Weather Service. A site outside Ashland received four-fifths of an inch, while Central Point got close to a half inch. Medford got the smallest amount, with just over one-tenth of an inch at the airport, and about one-fifth of an inch at the Weather Service offices, according to Schaaf.

Prior to the wet weather, Gov. Kate Brown had declared the Flounce fire a conflagration, which allows the state fire marshal to mobilize firefighters and equipment to help protect structures. The rain changed things, prompting a cancellation of structural protection resources at the fire line, according to a news release from the Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office.

"(Fire marshal) staff, incident management teams, and available structural resources stand ready to respond should the situation change," the release said.

Portions of the county also got hail. Nickel-sized dollops were reported five miles northeast of Gold Hill, with pieces slightly smaller than a dime reported in Jacksonville, Schaaf said. Pea-sized hail also fell in Central Point.

Strong winds accompanied the lightning and rain. Gusts of 50 mph were recorded in Central Point, with 44 mph gusts in Medford, according to meteorologist Michelle Cohen. Speeds were not available for the Applegate Valley, though weather officials received reports of a Ruch pine tree with a 24-inch diameter that the wind snapped in half.

Collectively, about 7,000 people were without electricity in Jackson and Josephine counties overnight Tuesday into early Wednesday, according to Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt. About 5,000 Grants Pass customers lost power at 6:32 p.m., with full restoration about five hours later. In Jacksonville, a power outage affecting 2,144 Jacksonville homes Tuesday night forced Britt Music & Arts Festival to cancel its first performance in 55 years. The outage began at 9:45 p.m., with restoration about two hours later. Gold Hill saw 233 customers without power from 12:43 to 3:40 a.m. Wednesday.

A red flag warning is in effect from noon to 10 p.m. Thursday, as more gusty, stormy weather is expected in the region.

"We're still looking at some more rainfall," Schaaf said. "There is a possibility that we could see more strong wind gusts and large hail that does extend all the way to Medford."

The new precipitation was also welcome at the Blanket Creek and Spruce Lake blazes burning near and into Crater Lake National Park, though the rain's effect on the flames was less pronounced. Public information officer Kyle Warden referred to the rain as more "calming."

"(The Flounce) fire's a lot newer than ours, so it didn't have as much steam behind it," Warden said.

Blanket Creek was at 39 percent containment Wednesday morning, and Spruce Lake was 23 percent contained. New acreage numbers were not immediately available, as the stormy weather hindered an overnight flight intended to take infrared scans of the fire area.

Because of the fires, West Rim Drive remains closed from Rim Village to North Junction, as does the Pacific Crest Trail from the park’s southern boundary to Highway 62, and from the intersection of the Dutton Creek Trail north to the North Entrance Road. The Union Peak, Stuart Falls, Pumice Flat, Boundary Springs, Bald Crater Loop, Bert Creek, Discovery Point and Lightning Springs trails are closed inside the park, as is the Rim Trail from Discovery Point to North Junction.

The U.S. Forest Service continues to monitor the area for the additional confirmed fire starts that have popped up on the High Cascades Ranger District since Monday.

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