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Local crews ready for potential new fire starts

Oregon Department of Forestry crews have resources at the ready for potential new fire starts this week, including seven visiting engines from New Mexico.

All of Jackson and Josephine counties are under a red flag warning until 10 a.m. Tuesday, due to a forecast calling for 30 mph winds out of the east and southeast. Gusts on ridges could reach 40 mph, and daytime humidity levels could drop as low as 10%.

“There’s just that heightened sense of just being on alert, what today could bring,” ODF spokeswoman Natalie Weber said Monday. “The conditions we have today really can just create the perfect storm for fire activity to just spike.”

ODF protects 1.8 million acres of private and public lands in Jackson and Josephine counties. It has 22 engines, two dozers, two 10-person crews and two water tenders, split evenly between the Medford and Grants pass offices.

The visiting New Mexico engines are fresh off the 131,542-acre Archie Creek fire burning east of Roseburg. On Monday, that blaze was 69% contained. Three helicopters, a large air tanker and an air attack platform — a single engine plane that coordinates air traffic during initial attack and can act as a spotter plane for new smoke — are also ready to take off, Weber said.

Firefighters continued their work on the South Obenchain fire near Eagle Point Monday, on watch for shifting winds that could carry heat to unburned portions of the fire, or “isolated islands,” according to a news release. Crews establish lines around those unburned pockets and monitor them for new smoke and heat.

“The mop-up process does take a while, and with the conditions that we have, we’re thankful for the progress we’ve already made,” Weber said. “But this week, they’re really going to be focused on just making sure that it holds, and that with the conditions we’re seeing, it doesn’t pick up and we don’t have spot fires because of it. That is a concern and something that we’re just thinking of and aware of. We’re not necessarily out of the woods yet.”

The 32,671-acre fire, which ignited Sept. 8, was 95% contained Monday. It has destroyed 33 homes and 56 other structures such as outbuildings. Its cause is unknown. Properties east of North and South Obenchain roads within the burn area are now under a Level 1 “get set” evacuation notice, with evacuation advisories lifted on all other areas of the fire, the press release said. See www.jacksoncounty.org/evacuation for an up-to-date evacuation map.

Weekend rain in Jackson County provided some recent relief for firefighters, but ODF said it received more aid from the cooler temperatures and lack of wind.

“If it had just poured all day and all night, that would have made a difference, but the two-tenths of an inch we got doesn’t really help firefighters,” Weber said.

Conditions are expected to remain warm into early October for the region, the National Weather Service said.

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

A firefighter at the South Obenchain fire stands beneath a smoke-smothered sun. (Photo from InciWeb){ }