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Lightning caused spot fires in Ashland Watershed

A Sunday thunderstorm that rolled from Northern California into Southern Oregon started two small wildfires in Ashland’s watershed, a spot where city officials do everything they can to prevent fires because it’s the source of the city’s water.

The first tiny wildfire was quickly doused on Sunday, but on Monday the U.S. Forest Service’s Siskiyou Mountain Ranger District was battling three smaller fires in the watershed, using hand crews, fire engines, and helicopter air support (scooping water out of Reeder Reservoir), says Rob Marshall, district fire management officer.

“One of the fires is 15 to 20 acres up by Coggin Saddle, another is two acres in the Bull Gap area, then I have 3 to 5 acres in the Panther Peak area, just outside the watershed, that we staffed early today (Monday), which is the one more visible from town,” said Marshall.

As Ashlanders early Monday began studying the big plume of hazy smoke to the southwest of town, in the general direction of Griffin Peak, there was much chat about if flames could menace the city.

“No,” says Marshall. “We’re going to have a line around it tonight (Monday). There’s no threat to town, but there are concerns, of course. We’re stretched real short on resources, that is, people and engines yes, you will still have a watershed tomorrow, but we don’t make promises. We will not see a lot of growth in (the fire) when we wake up Tuesday.”

Forces of the Oregon Department of Forestry and city of Ashland were leaving the battle to the Forest Service, following the vigorous lightning storm that came as many were trying to watch World Cup soccer late Sunday morning. It started some three dozen fires worth reporting on Southern Oregon fire sites.

Dozens of firefighter tents dotted the soccer fields of Ashland Middle School on Monday as a visibly more relaxed team of firefighters, mainly from Oregon Department of Forestry, said they had a “solid black line” of containment around the 38,000-acre Klamathon fire.

The fire burned overwhelmingly in Siskiyou County. A modest invasion into Oregon near Pilot Rock, Copco Road and I-5 in Oregon had been broken off and was only being handled by ODF now, they said.

A central City of Ashland website, www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=17502, details the range of firefighting organizations and their updated reports on many fires. It also links to health tips around smoke. Air quality maps are at oraqi.deq.state.or.us/home/map.

The city wildfire update Monday said, “A wildfire in the Ashland Watershed above town is being staffed by Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest firefighters this morning. U.S. Forest Service Siskiyou helicopter rappel firefighters extinguished one fire in the watershed yesterday. Fire crews throughout Southern Oregon are busy today with multiple fires. Smoke will be visible throughout the day from any number of fires in the region.”

A significant blaze left by Sunday’s storm is the Hendricks fire, notes the Forest Service page. It arose “from lightning that came through southwest Oregon during a thunderstorm that resulted in numerous downstrikes and multiple fires across multiple agencies.

“It was reported by the Dutchman Peak Lookout at 9:30 a.m. Located approximately 3 air miles from Wagner Gap and 2 miles from the small community of Dog Fork, it is burning on a mix of RRSNF and privately-owned land. Terrain is steep, and fuels are densely canopied forest on the RRSNF surrounded by logging slash on privately-owned timber lands.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Andy Atkinson / Daily TidingsA helicopter moves into position to make a dump of water on the Wagner Creek fire Monday morning.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest ServiceThe Hendrix Fire about 7 miles southwest of Ashland was started by lightning on Sunday.