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Ashland area fire surpasses 1,500 acres; Eagle Point area fire at 8,000 acres

Tuesday 11 p.m. update: The Oregon Department of Forestry estimated the Almeda Fire had grown to between 2,500 and 3,000 acres.

A fire that started Tuesday morning near Almeda Drive in Ashland stretched into Talent and Phoenix and was threatening Medford by evening, burning an estimated 1,500 acres in southern Jackson County.

In northern Jackson County, the Oregon Department of Forestry estimated the South Obenchain fire burning east of Eagle Point was at 8,000 acres by Tuesday evening.

The Almeda fire is burning on both sides of Interstate 5 and along the Bear Creek Greenway. As of Tuesday afternoon, it had damaged dozens of structures, although details were still coming in about the total and extent of the damage, said ODF Southwest District Public Affairs Officer Kyle Novy-Riley.

On Tuesday evening, the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center issued Level 3 “Go” evacuation alerts as far north as Barnett, Garfield and Stewart Roads in Medford, North Phoenix Road to the east and Columbus and Dark Hollow to the west.

“Everyone within this boundary is now at a Level 3 and should leave immediately by using routes going to the north and east to avoid current fire activity,” the emergency operations center said in a press release issued at 7 p.m. Tuesday. “Current fire acreage is estimated at 1,500 acres and zero percent contained.”

The Medford Police Department issued a Level 2 "Be Set" evacuation alert as far north as McAndrews Road in the middle of Medford. The alert stretched to North Phoenix and Foothill Roads to the east and Griffin Creek Road to the west.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office issued evacuation alerts late Tuesday afternoon in the Phoenix area.

On the north end of Phoenix, a Level 3 “Go” evacuation alert was in place for people south of Glenwood Drive, which intersects with Highway 99, and for people south of Campbell Road, which intersects with North Phoenix Road.

The Level 3 “Go” alert covered areas south of Glenwood Avenue on Highway 99 and south of Campbell Road in the North Phoenix area.

All Jackson County residents should consider themselves at the Level 1 “Be Ready” evacuation level, the sheriff’s office said.

Early in the day Tuesday, the sheriff’s office said several areas in the Talent area were also being evacuated, including Talent Avenue, Mountain View Estates and Suncrest Road.

Northbound I-5 lanes were closed from Exit 24 in Phoenix to the Oregon and California border, according to a 5:22 p.m. Tuesday update from the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Southbound I-5 was closed from Exit 35 north of Central Point to Exit 14 in south Ashland.

Oregon Highway 99 was closed between Phoenix and Talent.

For travel updates, visit tripcheck.com or call 5-1-1.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office issued a reverse 9-1-1 notification Tuesday afternoon asking all residents who weren’t under an evacuation order to stay home and avoid all travel in the Ashland, Talent and Phoenix area.

“There are multiple fire operations and many first-responder vehicles. Public traffic is creating dangerous impacts. Please stay home and avoid all active fire scenes,” the sheriff’s office said.

Tuesday evening, the city of Ashland announced an evacuation advisory for the Quiet Village area had been lifted.

The South Obenchain fire triggered the evacuations of people closest to that fire.

By Tuesday evening, a Level 2 “Be Set” evacuation was in effect along Highway 62 from Eagle Point to Shady Cove, and along Rogue River Drive from Highway 234 to Shady Cove, ODF said.

Many Jackson County evacuees are going to an emergency shelter at the Jackson County Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point, according to a press release sent at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"At this time, there is a need for clean blankets and sleeping bags," the press release said.

Donated blankets and sleeping bags can be dropped off with a person staffing Gate 3 at The Expo.

Fire agencies from throughout the area were attacking the fires by air and on the ground.

Much of southwest Oregon, including Jackson County, remains under a red flag warning until 5 p.m. Wednesday because of dry conditions, heat and strong, gusty winds.

“With conditions being what they are, the low humidity and excessive heat leading up to this event, we definitely have our work cut out for us,” said Novy-Riley.

Scattered power outages affected residents in both Jackson and Josephine counties throughout Tuesday. As of 9 p.m. Tuesday, Pacific Power said it was working to restore power to 13,000 customers in the two counties.

The wind storm caused power outages throughout the state, Pacific Power said.

Smoke from the fires and others in the region created unhealthy conditions for many Rogue Valley residents.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s live Air Quality Index map was overloaded and not functioning for much of Tuesday as people from throughout the state flocked to the site to check local smoke hazard ratings. Wildfires have erupted around the state.

With the Almeda fire threatening or damaging much of the area, plus scattered power outages, the Phoenix-Talent School District announced all school activities are canceled for Wednesday. Many families are relying on home-based, online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Kate Brown invoked the emergency conflagration act in response to the Almeda fire Tuesday night. The declaration authorizes the Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal to mobilize resources to assist local firefighters battling the fire.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneA fire moves up I-5 in Ashland Tuesday.