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Most federal lands in Southern Oregon reopen after wildfires

Federal land managers have opened much of their Southern Oregon holdings closed due to wildfire danger just in time for fall hiking and deer-hunting season for rifle hunters.

Rain, less smoke and the availability of firefighters to attack any future fire starts allowed the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to reopen many areas closed since Sept. 12, while fire crews attacked numerous blazes amid extreme wildfire conditions.

Some crews that have been fighting local fires for three weeks straight have been able to get some rest, and the fires have settled down enough that crews could be sent in should a fire break out in areas previously closed to humans, who cause the majority of forest fires.

“So if we have a new (fire) start, we now have available resources to address that,” Medford District BLM spokesman Kyle Sullivan said.

And less smoke will make spotting new fires much easier, Sullivan said.

“The smoke was so heavy that if there were reported (fire) starts, we had a hard time finding them,” Sullivan said. “With the improvement of air quality, we can see those starts.”

BLM opened its closed local lands Thursday, and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest reopened portions of its Wild Rivers and Siskiyou Mountains ranger districts to the public Friday.

Closures remain in effect around the still-burning South Obenchain and Slater wildfires to keep the public safe and keep people from clogging forest roads necessary for wildfire suppression, according to BLM.

The South Obenchain fire is burning on 32,671 acres west of Butte Falls, including areas popular among archery hunters now in their deer and elk season, as well as rifle hunters slated to hit the woods for black-tailed buck deer Oct. 3.

The Slater fire is burning in Northern California and in 33,205 acres of Southern Oregon 6 miles southeast of Cave Junction. The blaze triggered the closure of Highway 199 near the California border for more than a week.

The Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest lands that remained closed Friday were around the Slater fire as well, according to the Forest Service.

BLM crews spent Thursday and Friday taking down closure notices and replacing them with fire-prevention signs to warn people of the still-lingering extreme fire conditions and their role in curbing potential impacts on the forest.

Campfires, charcoal barbecues and other open fires are banned, as is driving or parking anywhere that is not clear of flammable vegetation. Smoking is allowed only in a closed vehicle while stopped in an area with at least a 3-foot diameter area cleared of flammable vegetation.

Chainsaws and other equipment are banned.

Visitors to BLM lands are required to carry tools to help them put out small fires they may start or encounter, including a shovel, ax and at least a gallon of water or a 2.5-pound fire extinguisher.

“We want everybody to know we’re not out of fire season yet,” Sullivan said.

For a full list of restrictions, see www.blm.gov/programs/public-safety-and-fire/fire-and-aviation/regional-info/oregon-washington/fire-restrictions.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com.

BLM photoPilot Rock stands tall in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. The new Cascade to Caves Trail connects the monument with Oregon Caves National Monument 80 miles away.