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Crews clamp down on Neil Rock fire

SAMS VALLEY — A wildfire that flared up Tuesday afternoon north-northeast of the Table Rocks was considered 75% contained and seemed to be holding at 9-1/2 acres Tuesday morning.

“(Monday) night they were able to complete the line around it, so that was great news,” said Oregon Department of Forestry public information officer Natalie Weber. “Today we’re just mopping up, monitoring it, making sure it doesn’t spread outside of our lines. But we’re feeling pretty good about it.

ODF firefighters working in the agency’s 22-camera detection center spotted smoke from the Neil Rock fire at about 3:40 p.m. Tuesday, a slow-drifting cloud that peeked over the hills and was visible from Medford. An engine went to investigate, followed by a second engine, helicopter, bulldozer and a task force from the 345-acre Medco B fire near Butte Falls, ODF reported. Additional resources, including a water tender and engines from ODF’s Grants Pass office, also responded at 5 p.m.

Flames were spotted in a remote, rocky area between Ramsey Canyon and Meadows, which made the initial attack challenging for crews. Windy conditions helped to push flames uphill, ODF said.

The area was near the location of the 1,971-acre Ramsey Canyon fire in August 2018, and of the Hull fire in 1994. The Ramsey Canyon fire roared to life Aug. 22, but was considered almost fully contained just over a week later, with crews taking advantage of the road system, cooler temperatures and immediate availability of firefighting equipment, including helicopters, during the firefight.

Despite the Neil Rock fire being so close to the old burn, responding fire crews didn’t have such luxuries this time.

“It’s in a different terrain,” Weber said. “It was tough to find an area where they could actually get to it to start working.”

Thirty-eight personnel were still on the fire Wednesday morning. Two hand crews and two engines continued mopping up the area Wednesday.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. It popped up during a 24-hour period in which local fire agencies were kept busy with four grass fires started by out-of-control burn piles near Sams Valley, Gold Hill, Central Point and Ashland. Another fire, which ignited on Interstate 5 between Phoenix and Medford Monday, was likely due to a cigarette butt thrown from a vehicle.

The large number of grass fires and warming weather prompted Ashland Fire & Rescue Tuesday to suspend burn permits. Fire season on the 1.8 million acres of ODF-protected lands in Jackson and Josephine counties has not been officially declared yet, though district forester Dave Larson has said it will be no later than June 1. The declaration ends debris and barrel burning, use of tracer ammunition and exploding targets and fireworks on ODF lands.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.

Smoke pours from an area between Ramsey Canyon and Meadows, where a fire broke out Tuesday afternoon. ODF Photo