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Wildland crews pummel Gyda fire

Mop-up operations have started on a 55-acre wildfire that ignited beneath a sweltering triple-digit sun Tuesday afternoon in the Applegate Valley.

The Oregon Department of Forestry reported it has completely lined the Gyda fire, and as of early Wednesday morning, firefighters had pushed 25 feet into the interior to begin extinguishing hot spots.

The fire was reported at 3:50 p.m. Tuesday in the 11000 block of Highway 238. Crews from ODF and Applegate Valley Fire District responded to find an outbuilding fully engulfed in flames, along with another outbuilding that already had been destroyed. Structure protection resources successfully defended 12 homes in the area, and no evacuations were needed.

At about 4 p.m., the high temperature reached about 103 degrees in the Applegate, according to the National Weather Service. In Medford, the mercury hit 105.

Due to the triple-digit heat and bone-dry conditions, five retardant drops from air tankers were a crucial step in containing the blaze, with the fire completely lined by retardant by about 6 p.m. Having access to those resources has been key in keeping blazes such as the Gyda and late July's 70-acre Panther Gulch fire — also in the Applegate — in check.

"Anytime we have aircraft available, we utilize it as much as possible. It's a great resource, especially when we're dealing with steep terrain like we have on our fires this year," said ODF public information officer Natalie Weber. "We just haven't had that many fires this year, and so the resources are available, versus last year when there were fires all over the place, California, Oregon, Washington. Most of those resources were already claimed by other incidents, and so we weren't able to get additional air support, we only had what we had on the district, and with multiple fires going, maybe one fire gets one helicopter or no helicopters. Just depending on what's going on."

While crews worked on the fire overnight, they ran into multiple snags in the blaze's northeast corner. Tree fallers have been assigned to that area today to deal with the hazard. Crews will also continue to push into fire's interior, as much as 75 feet.

"Steep terrain is also creating a challenge for crews," an ODF news release said. "Safety is paramount, and thankfully no injuries have been reported on this fire."

Crews and apparatus still on the fire include 267 personnel, 14 engines, 6 water tenders and a bulldozer, with aircraft ready as needed.

While work on the fire continues, crews will also continue to watch for new starts due to thunderstorms in the forecast. An excessive heat warning continues for much of southwest Oregon, with high temperatures from 95 to 105 degrees expected across Jackson, Josephine and Siskiyou counties. A red flag warning is also in effect through 11 p.m. Thursday, with thunderstorms expected west and east of the Cascade Range.

"Lightning and high fire danger will likely result in new fire starts. Gusty general and thunderstorm winds could contribute to fire spread," a Weather Service bulletin said.

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

An air tanker drops retardant on the Gyda fire in the Applegate Valley. Photo courtesy of Oregon Department of Forestry
Firefighters work to stop a fire burning Tuesday off Highway 238. Jamie Lusch/Mail Tribune