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Firefighters brace for wind, smoke

Firefighters work to mop up a smoldering area on a fire in Jackson County. Photo courtesy ODF Southwest Oregon District
Smoke could ground firefighting aircraft

Firefighters in Jackson and Josephine counties are bracing for strong, shifting winds throughout the day Thursday plus smoke that could ground aircraft, the Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest Oregon District said.

The National Weather Service also predicted a chance of thunderstorms Thursday morning.

The conditions could affect the progress crews have made against local fires and increase the risk of new fires starting, ODF officials said.

Southern Oregon is being flooded with smoke, primarily from fires burning in Northern California. Air quality levels were at unhealthy levels Thursday, with widespread smoke and haze obscuring the area.

A lack of visibility could impact the use of helicopters and airplanes. Firefighters on the ground are taking this into account and adjusting their strategies based on the potential of losing aircraft help for the better part of Thursday, ODF officials said.

The smoke is also impacting the ODF Southwest Detection Center in Central Point. ODF has cameras set up on mountain tops and other high vantage points throughout Jackson and Josephine counties, but camera views are limited by the haze, ODF officials said.

Recent lightning storms sparked dozens of fires across the two counties, but most were put out quickly.

Crews on the two remaining fires on ODF-protected land in Jackson and Josephine counties are continuing to make progress on strengthening perimeters and general mop-up, ODF said.

The Round Top fire, 10 miles northwest of Shady Cove, is still holding at 23 acres. Firefighters have been able to mop up 50 feet into the interior of the fire, and will continue that work Thursday. Four 10-person crews, two engines and three water tenders were assigned to the Round Top fire Thursday, ODF said.

The Buck Rock fire, 5 miles north of Trail, remained at 17 acres. A 10-person crew, 20-person crew, five engines and three water tenders were assigned to the fire to continue mop-up operations, according to ODF.

On both of the incidents, steep terrain and hazardous trees have challenged crews and caused safety concerns. Firefighters assigned to the fires were taking these factors into account as they continue to push forward on suppression efforts, ODF said.

ODF’s Southwest District is continuing to provide resources for fires burning in southern Douglas County on Douglas Forest Protective Association-protected land and the Umpqua National Forest.

Fires in Douglas County include the 841-acre Rough Patch Complex and the 23,280-acre Jack fire.

Although high temperatures have moderated to the 80s, fuels remain critically dry due to drought, and many fires will continue to grow, according to Dean Warner, a fire behavior analyst with the Northwest 13 Incident Management Team.

ODF has asked the public not to call 911 dispatchers with questions about where smoke and haze is coming from. For information on smoke from local and regional fires, visit fire.airnow.gov.

People should call 911 to report new fires.

For information on air quality levels, see oraqi.deq.state.or.us.

The National Weather Service predicts smoke will clear Sunday.

Winds from the northwest will help push smoke from fires in Southern Oregon and Northern California to the south and east, away from fire zones and local smoke-impacted communities.

More information about the local fire situation is available on the ODF Southwest District website at www.swofire.com, or the agency’s Facebook page at facebook.com/ODFSouthwest/ and Twitter account @swofire.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.