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Firefighters tackle Southern Oregon fires

Firefighters were aggressively attacking the Wards Creek Fire east of the town of Rogue River Wednesday. [Photo courtesy of Oregon Department of Forestry]
Firefighter treated for heat-related illness

The Wards Creek Fire east of Rogue River doubled in size to 10 acres from Wednesday morning to Wednesday evening as firefighters battled heat, steep terrain and dense brush.

Despite the growth in acreage, 40% of the fire was surrounded by fire lines. The fire sparked by lightning Tuesday is burning on private and Bureau of Land Management property in the hills above the 3100 block of Wards Creek Road, the Oregon Department of Forestry said.

On Wednesday, three 20-person crews were assigned to the fire, as well as numerous engines, tree fallers, a water tender, a bulldozer and two Type 2 helicopters. An air tanker dropped two loads of fire retardant on the east flank, bolstering perimeter lines. Meanwhile, tree fallers were able to remove roughly 50% of the hazardous trees on the fire, greatly reducing the risk to firefighters on the incident. That work will continue Thursday, ODF said.

Temperatures rose to approximately 99 degrees in the area Wednesday afternoon.

“We did have a firefighter suffering from a heat-related illness out on the line,” ODF Spokeswoman Natalie Weber said Wednesday.

With the help of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Brim Aviation, the firefighter was transported by air to the bottom of the road and taken to Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass by Jackson County Fire District 1 personnel. Wednesday night, the firefighter was reported to be in stable condition, ODF said.

Hydration and breaks are a priority on the fire line, and as temperatures continue to trend upward, the safety of firefighters remains a top priority, ODF said.

While fighting fires, firefighters aren’t covered by Oregon’s new laws that went into effect this year to help protect workers from excessive heat and smoke.

Three new 20-person hand crews were assigned to work the Wards Creek Fire overnight, along with engines, a water tender and other personnel. Goals include closing the fire line, with firefighters taking advantage of cooler overnight conditions to continue progress, ODF said.

No structures were threatened as of Wednesday, ODF said.

On the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, firefighters continued searching for new fires and attacking confirmed starts Wednesday.

On the High Cascades Ranger District, firefighters contained the Meadow, Maude, Ethel, Outn and Bunchgrass fires and will continue work to contain two additional fires.

While hiking out of the Sugar Fire, Crew 62 spotted new smoke in the area and was hiking in to attack it. The fires are scattered across a very broad area ranging from near Crater Lake National Park south to near Fish Lake, officials said.

Wednesday helicopter operations included extracting firefighters from remote fires that have been successfully contained, and returning them to staging for rapid reassignment to new fires, officials said.

Tuesday night, an aerial detection flight was completed over areas affected by Tuesday’s lightning on the Siskiyou Mountain Ranger District, the Gold Beach Ranger District and the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area. Significant rain accompanied the lightning, which gave firefighters a little extra time to locate and attack any new fires. However, the rain didn’t eliminate the threat of new fires. Sometimes a week or more may go by between the ignition and detection of holdover lightning fires, officials said.

ODF’s Southwest Oregon Detection Center in Central Point is fully staffed and workers are searching for signs of fire and smoke via a system of mountain-top cameras, ODF reported.

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest continued to help with the Clover Fire on the Fremont-Winema National Forest and the Alex Fire on the Klamath National Forest.

Fire danger is rated as extreme on Forest Service and ODF-protected land in Southern Oregon.

“Despite the rain received in some areas, fuels will dry out quickly with the heat and wind,” the Forest Service said in a press release.

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