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Six wildfires along I-5 doused Sunday

Firefighters have completed mop-up, but investigators are still working to determine what sparked half a dozen wildfires along Interstate 5 between Gold Hill and Grants Pass Sunday morning.

Six wildfires broke out along northbound I-5 over a 13-mile stretch, according to Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest Oregon District spokeswoman Natalie Weber.

“We’re looking into the cause, although at this point it’s pretty clear it’s vehicle-related,” Weber said.

The fires were spotted at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, and the largest of blaze reached a footprint of roughly a quarter acre. All six were completely knocked down by 1:30 p.m.

Partner agencies including Rogue River Fire Department, Grants Pass Fire-Rescue and Rural Metro Fire of Josephine County rushed to the scene to limit the spread, Weber said.

According to a Sunday morning update from Rural Metro Fire, some motorists stopped to help extinguish some of the six fires.

Investigators were inspecting the scene Monday searching for evidence as to how the fires started, according to Weber.

Weber said that when a vehicle’s catalytic converter starts to fail, pieces of the part used to reduce vehicle exhaust emissions can come out in pieces.

“If they land in dry grass, they can ignite it pretty easily,” Weber said.

Weber suggested that motorists make sure their vehicles are well maintained before traveling, and to watch for loose tow chains. Signs that a catalytic converter needs maintenance can include sluggish engine performance, dark exhaust smoke and a sulfur smell coming from the vehicle’s exhaust.

Weber said that “a lot of factors” helped firefighters keep the fires small.

“Had the fires come in later, it probably would’ve been a different story,” Weber said.

She also praised ODOT for fire prevention work done in the past year, such as keeping grass short along the highway.

“They’ve done a lot of fuel mitigation, and that did play a part,” Weber said.