10,000 Acres A Day: Oregon Gulch Fire Marches On

Aug 3, 2014

The Oregon Gulch Fire in its early stages. Note the red trees to the left, indicating a retardant slurry drop from a plane.
Credit Lee Winslow/ODF


ODF says crews "made excellent progress on the fire" during the day Sunday.  Fire acreage at 36,500+... first day since Thursday fire did not gain 10,000 acres during the day.


The Oregon Gulch Fire continues to burn through a vast swath of land on the Oregon/California state line, generating large amounts of smoke and obscuring dozens of other fires burning in the region.  The fire zone is south of Oregon highway 66 and generally east of Jenny Creek, with land scorched in Jackson, Klamath and Siskiyou Counties.

Oregon Department of Forestry reported the fire at more than 32,000 acres by Sunday morning.  ODF says lightning started it; first reports on Thursday morning put the size at around 10 acres.  

The fire's growth in dry brush and timber has been rapid, to say the least.  Swirling winds have made it difficult for firefighters to check the spread of the fire on the ground.  It grew by 10,000 acres on Friday and Saturday.  By Sunday morning, firefighters considered the fire 10% contained.  Its spread took it down to the Klamath River, with fire managers concerned about embers carrying across to start fires on the south bank.

Huge smoke columns  drafted upward from the fire each evening, and fire managers say the fire has grown large enough to create its own weather--including the possibility of creating its own thunderstorms.  Smoke hung in the air in the Rogue Valley and Klamath Basin through the weekend; air quality reached the "unhealthy for sensitive groups" level in Klamath Falls on Saturday.

Reports of structural damage are slow to come in, due to slow progress in the firefight.  Earlier statements from ODF indicated three homes, several smaller buildings and a number of vehicles were all destroyed in the Oregon Gulch fire.  No reports of injuries have been received from this fire.

Evacuation orders remain in effect on both sides of the state line.  The center of the evacuation zone is Copco Road, running south from Oregon 66 to Copco Lake in California.  An evacuation center opened at Jackson Street School in Yreka, serving families displaced by the Oregon Gulch and other fires burning in Siskiyou County.

A map of the biggest fires near the state line on Sunday. Yreka is roughly in the middle, Beaver fire to the left, Oregon Gulch upper right, and Little Deer lower right.
Credit wildlandfire.maps.arcgis.com

Fire management and naming conventions led to some confusion about just where fires are burning. Oregon Gulch and the much smaller Salt Creek fire northwest of Medford were considered part of the Beaver Complex of fires by ODF, even though the fires were physically dozens of miles apart.  And a completely separate Beaver fire--named for Beaver Creek--is burning in the Klamath National Forest on the California side.  A community meeting is set for Sunday night at 7  PM at the Klamath River Community Center on Highway 96.

In addition, the Little Deer fire burning in eastern Siskiyou County forced the closure of U.S. Highway 97 near Grass Lake, on the road between Weed and Klamath Falls.  

Prospects for relief appear slim for firefighters and the people who depend upon them.  The weather forecasts for the region call for continued high temperatures, with a chance for even more thunderstorms Monday and Tuesday.