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Homes near Miles fire protected; Klondike blows up

No homes were lost amid increased fire activity Friday and Saturday on the Miles fire burning north of Lost Creek Lake, as 41 different fire agencies provided structure protection, according to a report from the Oregon Department of Forestry. Increased winds boosted the fire by 2,300 acres over the Friday report, pushing it to 29,397 acres.

That was a relatively small amount of growth compared to the Klondike fire burning northwest of Selma in Josephine County. The Klondike was listed at 47,030 acres and 16 percent contained Saturday morning, an increase of more than 8,600 acres from Friday as winds breathed new life into the fire and spawned a visible smoke column in the process, according to an Inciweb report. The 600 personnel battling the flames were facing a mix of fire weather conditions that included gusty winds of up to 20 mph.

Unlike the Klondike fire burning in remote wilderness, the Miles fire is burning uncomfortably close to homes. The ODF report said firefighters had checked 1,018 structures and prepared 398 homesites to better withstand wildfire conditions. "Those preparations were tested overnight with increased fire activity and no homes were lost," the Saturday morning report said.

The winds that kicked up started two spot fires Friday, one estimated at 200 acres on the east side of Elk Creek Road, near the Homestead Trailhead. The other was just north of the Alco Creek area.

Fire personnel on the scene totaled 1,855. A total of 447 homes were still listed as threatened.

Nearby Shady Cove recorded the worst air quality in the region Saturday morning, with a "very unhealthy" listing of 229 at 11 a.m. By late afternoon, conditions had improved there somewhat and Shady Cove joined Medford, Ashland and Grants Pass in the "unhealthy" category with levels in the four cities ranging from 155 to 181.

ODF said the Miles fire is likely to continue growing, due to dry conditions, with minimal moisture in the area since May. The fire is part of the Miles/Columbus/Snowshoe/Round Top complex, which totaled 42,678 acres. The Miles fire was listed as only 4 percent contained, while the Columbus was 10 percent, Snowshoe 93 percent and Round Top 85 percent.

Here are updates on the other major wildfires burning in Southern Oregon Saturday:

Taylor Creek Complex (45,055 acres, 45 percent contained as of Saturday morning): Crews are using aerial drones to improve fireline depth in difficult terrain west of Grants Pass and Merlin, according to fire officials, but the smoke has made it difficult to use helicopters and planes for the bulk of the past week. Some 1,200 personnel are continuing to hold firelines and mop-up efforts, according to Inciweb. The forecast for the remainder of the weekend and into next week calls for a drop in temperatures, but also lower humidity.

Natchez Fire (12,449 acres, 52 percent contained as of Saturday afternoon): Breezy conditions and active fire is expected through the weekend for the fire burning between Cave Junction and Happy Camp, California, according to Inciweb reports, though warmer temperatures in the 90s are forecast to return by the middle of next week. Crews totaling 833 personnel are working to prepare a fireline along the 48 Road and construct fireline along the southwest flank of the fire, and are assessing and developing their structure protection plan for the Indian Creek area of northern California.

Hendrix Fire (1,082 acres, 72 percent contained as of Friday morning): Crews totaling 204 personnel continue to patrol, monitor and mop up the edges of the fire burning south of Ashland, as homes in the evacuation area remain on Level 1 "Be Ready." Progress lining the southeast corner of the fire is a challenge because of firefighter safety concerns, according to Inciweb reports.

Smoke from the Klondike fire billows out of the Sixmile Creek area, above the Illinois River. (Photo from Inciweb)