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Almeda fire 50% contained

On Friday, the Almeda fire was 50% contained and saw no new growth overnight, and evacuees were allowed to return to some parts of Talent and Phoenix.

Firefighters continued their work inside the fire line, navigating debris, unstable structures, downed utility lines and venting natural gas.

On Friday afternoon, Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler lifted the Level 3 “Go” evacuation alert to a Level 2 “Be Set” alert mainly for the outer edges of Phoenix and Talent. The change allows residents in the “Be Set” areas to return.

Unable to get back in for days, many were uncertain about whether their homes survived the catastrophic fire.

“Working cooperatively with fire command, we believe it is safe to let those residents on the outer edge of the fire return,” said Sheriff Nathan Sickler. “Keep in mind these areas will be compromised as these areas may not have power or water service.”

Central Phoenix and part of central Talent remain under a Level 3 “Go” evacuation alert.

A current map of evacuation alerts and impacted areas is available at jacksoncounty.org/evacuation.

The areas being opened to residents includes those areas generally west and east of Phoenix and Talent, including those outside the city limits:

  • On the west side of Phoenix: the Carpenter Hill Road, Dark Hollow Road, Pioneer Road and Coleman Creek Road areas
  • Portions of Phoenix on the west side of the railroad tracks
  • Areas east of Interstate 5, including Suncrest Road, Payne Road and Fern Valley Road, and East Phoenix
  • Portions of Talent west of Talent Avenue

Residents living in the immediate burn zone of the communities are still under a Level 3 “Go” evacuation notice and will not be allowed in until it’s safe to return. Access into those areas will still be staffed by law enforcement to keep the area secure, the sheriff’s office said.

Central Phoenix and part of central Talent remain under the Level 3 “Go” evacuation level.

The fire, which sparked Tuesday in Ashland and surged with 40-45 mph winds pushing it northwest through the Rogue Valley, destroyed at least 600 homes and 100 commercial properties, officials said.

So far, two people have been confirmed dead, with injuries to two firefighters. Thousands had to evacuate their neighborhoods. More than 16,000 structures remained threatened.

There are 127 personnel working the fire, with 12 engines, three dozers and four water tenders.

Highway 99 remains closed to the public between South Valley View Road just north of the Ashland city limits and south Medford at South Stage Road while firefighting operations continue, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Firefighters on the South Obenchain fire burning near Eagle Point reported Friday the fire had grown to 23,150 acres, with no containment. The fire made a major push toward Butte Falls, prompting Level 3 evacuations for the town. Shady Cove and Trail also remained under Level 3 evacuation notices Friday. A large spot fire sparked at the junction of Derby Creek and Crowfoot roads. Firefighters continue to work on fire lines, scout for new line construction spots and provide protection for structures. There are 331 personnel assigned to the blaze.

Highway 62 remains closed between Highway 234 and Highway 227 due to the fire, according to ODOT.

Smoke from area fires, much of which has billowed back into the region, dropped air quality to hazardous levels across Jackson and Josephine counties, according to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality data. The agency has issued an air pollution advisory until Monday. Health officials urged residents to stay inside and keep windows and doors closed. If possible, use air conditioning.

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com.

FEMA estimates 600 homes were burned in the Almeda fire that tore through Ashland, Talent and Phoenix. Jamie Lusch/Mail Tribune