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Merged 120,000-acre wildfire splits battle into two fronts

Two massive wildfires that merged west of Grants Pass have been split into two management zones - one to protect inland towns like Merlin, Grants Pass and Cave Junction, and the other to slow the spread of the fires toward the Oregon coast.

Sparked by a lightning storm that started fires throughout Southern Oregon on July 15, the 52,588-acre Taylor Creek fire is closest to Merlin and Grants Pass. It was 61 percent contained on Sunday.

To the south, the 68,241-acre Klondike fire near Selma and Cave Junction was only 15 percent contained as of Sunday.

The spreading fires merged earlier this month.

Fire officials announced over the weekend that the merged fires have been split into two management zones with new labels.

The Taylor Creek and Klondike East fires are being managed at Lake Selmac south of Grants Pass by the Alaska Incident Management Team.

The Klondike West fire is being managed by the California Interagency Incident Management Team 4 out of Gold Beach on the coast.

The Klondike fire is burning in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area — a steep, rugged area that has been home to major wildfires.

In 2002, the Biscuit fire burned 500,000 acres.

Last year, the 191,125-acre Chetco Bar fire consumed portions of the wilderness area and threatened communities from the coast to Cave Junction.

During a briefing with Sen. Jeff Merkley last week, fire managers said they feared the annual return of the Chetco winds that blow from east to west could fan the Klondike fire toward the coast — recreating conditions that caused the 2017 Chetco Bar fire to make a run at coastal communities.

Fire crews are using containment lines and burn scars from the Chetco Bar fire in their new fight against this year’s Klondike fire.

During this weekend’s fight on the Klondike fire’s east flank near Selma, helicopters dropped water and drones ignited fires on ridges to slow the spread of the fire toward the populated valley, fire officials said.

A drone was also used to help fire crews making a buffer zone on the south flank.

A community fire briefing is planned at 6 p.m. Monday at the Illinois Valley High School, 625 E. River St., Cave Junction.

On the east side of the Taylor Creek fire closest to Merlin, crews improved containment lines. Wind pushed the fire into a previously unburned island of land within the fire’s boundaries, fire officials said.

On the west side of the Klondike and Taylor Creek fires closest to the coast, crews worked this weekend to reopen the overgrown Flat Top Road so they could use it as a fire line. Helicopters continued water drops on a portion of the fire bulging through the fire line.

Crews are working to push the fire into the recently burned Chetco Bar fire area.

The westernmost edge of the Klondike fire is approximately 30 miles from the coast.

A community fire briefing is at 6 p.m. today at the Agness Community Library, 3905 Cougar Lane, Agness.

On the coast, a community fire briefing is at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Curry County Fairgrounds in the Curry Showcase Building, 29392 Ellensburg Ave., Gold Beach.

In northern Jackson County, the Miles fire was at 33,204 acres as of Sunday with 35 percent containment.

Increasing temperatures and low humidity will increase the risk of fire growth, torching and spotting at least through Monday, according to the Incident Information System that tracks wildfires.

Crews have been patrolling fire lines, conducting mop-up operations and searching out spots within the Miles fire’s perimeter, the Incident Information System reported this weekend.

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

For evacuation updates in Jackson County, visit jacksoncountyor.org/sheriff/News.

Evacuation information for area fires is also available by calling the Joint Information Center at 541-474-5305.

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

Klondike-Taylor Creek fire firefight, courtesy official fire information Facebook page.