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Jackson County residents evacuated as Klamathon fire marches toward border

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Jackson County Sheriff's deputies are evacuating Oregon residents who live near the California border as the 9,600-acre wildfire in Siskiyou County nears Southern Oregon.

Colestin Road and Oregon Highway 99 residents living between the California border and Mt. Ashland Ski road are being issued Level 3 "go" evacuation orders, according to Oregon Department of Forestry spokeswoman Melissa Cano.

At Level 2 or "get set" evacuation notice are homes in the area of Mt. Ashland Ski Road to Highway 99, along with Old Highway 99 up to Callahan's Lodge, Cano said.

The 9,600-acre Klamathon fire in Siskiyou County, California, has claimed one life and destroyed 40 structures as it advances within a half mile of the Oregon border, leading to the evacuation of 400 people from Hornbrook to Hilt.

Suzi Brady, spokesman for Cal Fire’s Siskiyou unit, said, “We’re hoping it does not jump the border.”

Red flag winds that have hampered the fire for the past 48 hours are expected to calm, and shift north, according to Cal Fire officials.

Bulldozers are cutting 5-foot-wide fire lines and hand crews are slashing through vegetation in an attempt to prevent the fire from burning north.

“It’s very difficult terrain in all of Siskiyou County,” Brady said. “There’s always a possibility that a fire could make runs on us.”

Air tankers have been dropping retardant, which slows the fire down and allows crews to cut lines, Brady said.

“We’re trying hard to stop it,” she said.

The fire had burned 9,600 acres and was 5 percent contained as of Friday, Brady said. At least 40 structures were destroyed and five have been damaged. As of 6 p.m., it was not immediately clear how many of those structures were homes.

Another 300 structures are threatened, and roughly 600 to 700 firefighters are battling the Klamathon, according to Cal Fire Incident Management Analyst Tim Chavez. Within the next 24 hours he expected the number of responders to more than double, if not triple.

A two-man crew from Medford Fire-Rescue was sent to the fire Friday afternoon.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, Brady said.

One of the priorities is to prevent more structures from being destroyed, Brady said.

So far, 400 people have been evacuated, Brady said. Shelters had been set up at the Ashland High School and Jackson Street Elementary in Yreka. The Red Cross closed the Ashland High shelter Friday afternoon.

The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that a person was found dead in the area around Hornbrook, where an evacuation notice was declared yesterday.

“We don’t know right now any information about the person,” said Siskiyou sheriff’s Lt. Jeremiah LaRue.

Investigators are working with neighbors to help identify the person, LaRue said. Because of the amount of debris, it was difficult to determine whether the body was inside or outside the residence.

The evacuation notice also affected the AllStar Liquor Express on Hilt Road just to the west of Interstate 5, LaRue said.

The fire is burning northward to Hilt and the Oregon border into dense, wooded areas that are difficult to access, LaRue said.

LaRue said Interstate 5 off-ramps into Hornbrook were closed to motorists unless they resided in the community.

“It’s still burning east and west of the freeway,” he said.

LaRue said sheriff’s deputies have been patrolling the evacuated areas.

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday declared a state of emergency in Siskiyou County.

On Thursday night into Friday morning, Interstate 5 was closed in both directions but had reopened by Friday morning.

A resident near the Klamathon fire outside of Hornbrook had a good view of the fire from his deck Thursday night and Friday morning.

“Looking to the northwest, it’s burning pretty good near Hilt, close to the liquor store on both sides of the freeway,” said Richard Pfiffner, who lives along the Klamath River about seven miles east of Interstate 5. “I guess it missed Hornbrook.”

The 70-year-old owner of Craggy Aero, an aircraft supply company, said he’s seen aerial bombers and huge swaths of fire.

“There was a whole ridge of flames two-thirds of the way down Cottonwood,” Pfiffner said. Cottonwood Peak is to the southwest of Hornbrook.

He said friends on Mount Ashland Road helped protect horses last night at the R Ranch on the west side of Interstate 5 and north of Hornbrook.

Prevailing winds should carry most of the smoke from the Klamathon fire to the east, according to the National Weather Service in Medford.

“Air quality has been good here and moderate in Yreka,” meteorologist Mike Petrucelli said.

On Thursday, when the fire erupted in Hornbrook, some smoke wafted into the valley, but the area should see winds coming out of the west through the weekend, he said, carrying the smoke off to east and south.

Toward the middle of next week temperatures are expected to hit around 100, raising the fire danger.

By Friday afternoon, a huge column of smoke was visible from Medford looking south past Ashland.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneThe Klamathon blaze moves up a hill off Baily Hill Road near the I-5 interchange just miles south of the Oregon-California border Friday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneNorthern California fire crews watch a blaze move up a hill off Baily Hill Road near the I-5 interchange just miles south of the Oregon-California border Friday afternoon.