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Thunderstorms could wreak havoc for firefighters

Thunderstorms could bring more lightning to Southern Oregon — triggering more wildfires and endangering firefighters as wind gusts topple trees.

The National Weather Service has forecast a chance of thunderstorms east of the Cascades that could expand west across the mountains into Jackson and Siskiyou counties through Thursday night.

Wind flowing out from those new thunderstorms could prove hazardous to firefighters battling wildfires triggered by a massive July 15 lightning storm, according to the Incident Information System website, which tracks the status of wildfires.

“Outflow winds can fell snags and fire-weakened trees and push the fire in many directions creating a significant hazard for firefighters,” the website warned.

A National Weather Service meteorologist assigned to the Klondike fire — the largest in Southern Oregon — will monitor the developing weather and issue warnings for crews to move to identified safety zones, the website reported.

The Klondike and Taylor Creek fires burning west of Merlin, Grants Pass, Cave Junction and Selma have merged and charred a combined 106,350 acres, according to Wednesday acreage updates.

The Taylor Creek fire, which is closest to Merlin, was 45 percent contained. The Klondike fire burning in the rugged Kalmiopsis Wilderness is only 15 percent contained, according to updates.

North of Shady Cove, the 31,951-acre Miles fire was at 15 percent containment.

As of Wednesday, addresses in the 8800 block and higher along Elk Creek, all Sugar Pine Road addresses and all Dodes Creek Road addresses were on level 3 “go” evacuation alert, according to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.

Level 2 “be set” evacuation alerts were active for the 5700 block of Elk Creek Road and the upper section of West Branch Elk Creek Road.

Level 1 “be ready” evacuation alerts were in effect for a long list of locations in the Trail and Prospect areas, including portions of Highway 62, the north side of Lost Creek Lake and all addresses on Takelma Drive, Cole Rivers Road, Lewis Road, Evergreen Drive and all its intersecting streets, Cascade Gorge Road, Ulrich Road, Shelly Lane, Snodgrass Lane, Mather Road and Skookum Lane.

For updated information on the evacuation level for specific addresses, check bit.ly/2uUku2C.

To sign up for alert notifications via phone, text or email, visit www.rvem.org.

The 1,082-acre Hendrix fire southwest of Ashland was 90 percent contained.

The Natchez fire burning near the Oregon border and into California east of Crescent City had reached 15,940 acres with 55 percent containment as of Wednesday.

Those current wildfires plus others burning across Southern Oregon and Northern California pushed the total burned area from active fires to 177,710 acres.

The smoke from the fires pushed air quality levels into the unhealthy category in a broad swathe from Cave Junction to Klamath Falls, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

For air quality map updates, visit oraqi.deq.state.or.us/home/map.

For updated evacuation information for Josephine County, see www.co.josephine.or.us/News.asp?SectionID=180.

Information about evacuation levels is also available by calling the Joint Information Center for area fires at 541-474-5305.

Evacuees in need of assistance can contact the American Red Cross at 1-888-680-1455.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

InciWeb photoNight burnout operations are conducted on the Klondike fire burning in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.