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Rainfall decreases fire danger levels, precedes expected ‘drying trend’

Courtesy photo | Rain moistened fuels and reduced fire intensity on the Cougar Peak fire Saturday, allowing firefighters to directly attack certain areas.

Though significant rain fell across much of Oregon Saturday, wildfire season is not over yet, according to fire management officials.

Trees and grasses remain dry and “the chance of ignition on most fuel models is still around 70%,” according to Northwest Incident Management Team 8, which is currently engaged on the Cougar Peak fire west of Lakeview.

One-third-of-an-inch of rain moistened fuels and reduced fire intensity on the Cougar Peak fire (90,614 acres, 41% contained), allowing firefighters to directly attack certain areas, though drought-weakened trees and vegetation continued to feed the blaze Saturday afternoon.

Crews focused on securing containment lines along the western edge Sunday. Wind tested the fire’s eastern flank over the past few days, drawing resources to monitor for spot fires and hot spots.

As of Sunday, the public fire danger level decreased to “moderate” and the industrial fire precaution level dropped to “one” in Jackson and Josephine Counties, due to recent rainfall and a steady drop in daily temperatures, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest Oregon District.

Chain saws, brush cutters and other similar equipment may be used until 1 p.m. and after 8 p.m. Debris, pile and barrel burning remain prohibited.

More information about public use restrictions under moderate fire danger may be found at swofire.com/public-fire-restrictions/.

Recent rainfall also prompted a reduction in fire danger to “low” on lands protected by the Douglas Forest Protective Association.

DFPA and Sutherlin Fire Department crews contained a grass and brush fire to 3.5 acres within 40 minutes Thursday near the intersection of Green Valley Road and Rochester Bridge Road, initially reported at one half-acre spreading up a hillside three miles northwest of Sutherlin.

Two helicopters dropped water from above while engine crews constructed containment lines. Mop up and hot spot monitoring continued into the evening. A preliminary investigation indicates a power line may have contributed to causing the fire, according to the DFPA.

The Bear Flat fire burning in the Klamath River Canyon nine miles southwest of Keno was 50% contained at 57 acres Saturday. Rainfall was expected to encourage full containment by next week.

Low humidity and gusting southwest winds increased fire activity Friday on the Rough Patch Complex (50,212 acres, 37% contained) causing spot fires across the northern portion of the Chaos fire near the Bohemia Mining District and prompting an immediate evacuation notice for the area.

A shift in weather Saturday offered a reprieve for fire managers to refine control measures, but a drying trend was expected to begin Monday afternoon, likely increasing fire activity by the middle of the week.

“A soaking rain over the last 24 hours minimized fire activity across the entire Rough Patch Complex and Jack Fire,” Great Basin Team 2 reported Sunday. “A strong front early Saturday morning brought over 1.5 inches of rain, low wind speeds and cool temperatures that slowed fire growth overall.”

The western side of the Smith Fire received the most precipitation across the Devil’s Knob Complex (69,301 acres, 49% contained) with nearly 1.5 inches of rain Saturday. Muddy conditions impeded containment line and mop up work on some areas of the fire, according to Pacific Northwest Team 2.

Firefighters leveraged breaks in storm weather to backhaul equipment from the fire line for maintenance and storage, and assess compromised road infrastructure.