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More lightning expected as fires rage

A smoky weekend is forecast for most of Jackson County because of fires that continue to rage across southwestern Oregon, and some more thunderstorms could move into the area by Sunday.

The possible thunderstorms are forecast for the Siskiyou Mountains southward, and in the Cascades eastward, according to a National Weather Service news release.

“Given the dry vegetation, new fire starts are possible, even with isolated storms,” the release said, though it adds that “significantly less” lightning is expected compared to the thousands of strikes that stabbed across the region Sunday.

Fires that roared to life because of that lightning continued to burn across southwest Oregon Friday, resulting in the closure of a section of the Pacific Crest Trail and mandatory evacuations for some Jackson and Josephine county residents in remote areas.

Garner Complex

The Grave No. 3 fire, one of the dozens of blazes that are part of the Garner Complex, prompted the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office to evacuate residents of northwestern Jackson County Friday. Residents of seven homes on Graves Creek Road north of Ditch Creek were told to “leave the area immediately” late Friday afternoon after being on Level 2 “get set” notice since Thursday night.

“Because the area is isolated and communications are limited, deputies urge nearby residents to be alert to changes in fire behavior, and to leave if they don’t feel comfortable,” a sheriff’s office bulletin read earlier in the day.

Addresses on Pleasant Creek Road between 5047 and 7948 remain under a Level 2 “be set” advisory because of the Garner complex. Seven individual addresses in the 6500 and 6600 blocks of that road received Level 3 — “go” — notices in person Wednesday because of their proximity to the fire, the Josephine County Sheriff’s Department said.

As of Friday afternoon, the complex had grown to 1,700 acres and was listed at 8 percent contained. The Grave No. 3 fire is the most active one within the complex as it continued to burn toward the south.

Hendrix fire

Officials at the lightning-sparked Hendrix fire, burning southwest of Ashland, on Friday issued a closure on the PCT from where the trail meets Observation Gap to the Grouse Gap shelter, according to fire officials.

Several road closures are also in effect:

National Forest Road No. 20 from the junction with Bureau of Land Management Road 39-2-32 to where Road 20 crosses the National Forest boundary.

National Forest Road No. 22 and all associated spur roads from Wagner Gap to its junction with NFR No. 20.

National Forest Road No. 2250 and all associated spurs in its entirety.

National Forest Road No. 2230 and all associated spurs in its entirety.

National Forest Road No. 1099 and all associated spur roads from the junction of 1099500 to its terminus.

As of Friday afternoon, the Hendrix fire had grown to 830 acres and was 10 percent contained. The fire’s southeastern flank continues to be the most problematic spot, mostly due to the growth of recent spot fires.

“That’s where you’ve seen the growth, is where the spot fires are growing together,” said Hendrix fire public information officer Julie Knobel.

The fire’s western flank has continued to hold, and crews continue to work on extending and bolstering containment lines.

Kalmiopsis Wilderness fires

The two fires burning in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness were dubbed 0 percent contained Friday afternoon, and one saw significant growth overnight Thursday into Friday.

The Klondike fire surged from nearly 600 acres to 1,062 Thursday into Friday, according to fire public information officer Alan Hoffmeister, who said the blaze is “now a big, big concern.”

He added that residents in the Oak Flat area in Josephine County will receive level 2 evacuation advisories.

The Granite fire is at 233 acres.

Crews working to contain those fires are also overseeing containment operations on the Natchez fire, burning about 15 miles southwest of Cave Junction. It has grown to 1,048 acres and is also 0 percent contained.

“We’re putting a high priority on those fires to limit their spread,” Hoffmeister said. “It’s very difficult, dangerous ground to put people on.”

Wagner Creek Complex

On Friday afternoon, the 250-acre Wagner Creek Complex in Jackson was listed at 50 percent containment.

Air quality

Smoke from the numerous fires in and around Jackson County continued to push into the Rogue Valley, dropping air quality to measurably “unhealthy” levels for Ashland, Medford and Shady Cove for much of the day Friday, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Index. By the late afternoon, Medford had improved to “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” while Shady Cove rose to “moderate.”

The area’s fire danger surged to “extreme” Friday, meaning the use of power saws, cutting, grinding and welding metal, the mowing of dry or dead grass or the operation of any other spark-emitting internal combustion engine is prohibited. Debris and barrel burning are prohibited. Smoking is prohibited while traveling, except in vehicles on improved roads, in boats on the water or at designated locations.

Earlier this week, Gov. Kate Brown declared a fire emergency, noting that an estimated 200 wildfires were burning statewide. The largest in the state is the 70,421-acre Substation fire, which started on private land southeast of The Dalles. Fire officials had it 15 percent contained Friday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has authorized the use of federal funds to assist with firefighting costs, and Oregon National Guard helicopters and personnel are expected to join the fight, too.

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com or at 541-776-4468. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Firefighter Megan Clary of Grayback Forestry shot this photo of the Railroad Gap fire, burning as part of the South Umpqua Complex.
Grayback Forestry firefighters fight the Railroad Gap fire, part of the South Umpqua Complex. (Photo by FFT2 Megan Clary.)