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South Obenchain fire 25% contained

Thick smoke has hindered progress on the South Obenchain fire burning near Eagle Point the past two days, preventing aircraft from taking to the skies.

That changed Tuesday, when some moderate air flow resulted in enough clearing to get some aircraft off the ground, before smoke grounded them again several hours later.

“They were able to get a lot of work done in that short period of time,” said fire public information officer Don Hickman.

At least 32 houses and 56 other structures such as outbuildings and barns have been lost in the blaze, Hickman said, though a full tally was not immediately available.

On Wednesday, fire officials considered the fire 25% contained. The blaze had grown to 32,814 acres, but firefighters noted considerable progress on the front lines.

“We had some nice moisture recovery overnight, which is nice, because it allows crews to get in there and get a little bit better direct attack,” Hickman said. “The flame lengths aren’t as high.”

The problematic flank was on the fire’s east side. A complete line surrounds the fire except for the eastern edge. On Tuesday, a spot fire in that sector grew to about an acre, but crews knocked it down.

A task force of engines from the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office continued to patrol along Butte Falls Highway, where the Jackson County Roads Department continued to work on hazard mitigation, according to fire officials. A group dedicated to repairs has started assessing damage caused by fire-suppression efforts, including dozer lines and cut fences.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department downgraded some spots from a Level 3 — Go! — evacuation notice to Level 2 — “Get Set.” They included properties north of Highway 140 between Salt Creek Road west to South Obenchain Road and north to the fire perimeter, according to the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center. Salt Creek and South Obenchain roads remain closed.

A map of evacuation notices across Jackson County can be viewed online at jacksoncounty.org/evacuation. The cause of the fire remained under investigation Wednesday.

Smoke continued to blanket much of southwest Oregon Wednesday. Medford and Ashland air quality was at “very unhealthy” levels, according the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Cave Junction and the Applegate had dipped to “hazardous,” while Grants Pass was at “unhealthy.” An air quality alert is in effect until noon Thursday. Rain is possible in the area forecast Thursday night and Friday, according to the National Weather Service, with about a quarter-inch forecast for Medford and Ashland.

The Almeda fire, which ignited near Ashland the same day as the South Obenchain fire, was considered fully contained Tuesday. The 3,200-acre blaze is estimated to have destroyed more than 2,300 houses, the majority in the towns of Phoenix and Talent, and left at least three dead.

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

Julian Cordle photoThe South Obenchain fire burns Wednesday night near Ball Road in Eagle Point.