Much of the Rogue Valley is shrouded in a smoky haze, as southern Oregon’s largest wildfire so far this season grows at a rapid pace.
The lightning-caused fire -- reported Thursday morning as 10 acres -- exploded across southeastern Jackson County overnight and spread into Klamath County as well as Siskiyou County, California.
UPDATE: 1:00 p.m. Saturday, August 2
The Oregon Gulch fire has nearly doubled in size in the past 20 hours to 21,088 acres, 3,500 of them in California. Stefan Meyers, with the Beaver Complex Fire Information Team, tells JPR that three homes, five outbuildings and "multiple" vehicles have been destroyed so far. In Oregon and California, 270 structures are threatened by the blaze, which continues to move southeast toward toward Copco Lake in Siskiyou County, California. The fire is five percent contained.
A mandatory evacuation order has been in effect since yesterday in Siskiyou County for people living from 1 mile east of the town of Copco to Beaver Creek, on the north side of Copco Lake. Susie Brady, with CalFire, says an evacuation shelter has been set up at Jackson St. Elementary School in Yreka.
In Oregon, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department is maintaining a Level 3 evacuation for homes near the fire, from the 6000 block of Copco Road to the California state line. In addition, a Level 1 order has been issued for the area between the junction of Highway 66 and Hyatt Lake Road to the 22,000 block of Highway 66. A Level 1 order is to alert residents to be prepared should evacuation become necessary.
Richard Little, with the US Bureau of Land Management, is advising boaters to stay off the Upper Klamath River. He says an official closure is being considered, which would extend from the John C. Boyle power plant to the state line. If an official closure is issued, it would include public lands one mile on either side of the river.
The area's other fire, the Salt Creek fire 20 miles northwest of Medford, reached 148 acres, as crews were able to complete a line around the blaze. Crews are working to complete containment in hopes of being able to move personnel and equipment to the larger Oregon Creek fire.
Weather conditions are expected to remain more or less unchanged today, with temperatures in the upper 90s and the relative humidity dropping below 25 percent. Variable winds will become west to northwest.
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4:30 p.m. FRIDAY, Aug. 1
By early afternoon Friday, the Oregon Gulch fire had burned more than 11,000 acres in and around the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, including more than 1,000 in California.
A number of people were forced to evacuate their homes and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber declared a fire emergency, which authorizes bringing statewide firefighting resources to bear on the blaze.
Jen Warren, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Forestry, told JPR Friday afternoon that the fire had damaged or destroyed an undetermined number of structures and that another 170 structures were considered at risk.
The fire was considered only 5 percent contained and was moving toward the southeast toward Copco Lake.
ODF spokesperson Lou Gougliatta said there were 350 personnel at work on the fire, and the Oregon Fire Marshall’s Incident Management Team had been dispatched. Aerial drops and bulldozers were working with hand crews to slow the growth of the fire.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office last night issued a Level 3 (“Drop and Run”) evacuation order for the area from the 6000 block of Copco Road to the California state line. All residents in the affected area have been contacted. As of late Friday morning, road blocks were still in place along Copco Road.
Meanwhile the other fire in the area – the Salt Creek fire about 20 miles northwest of Medford – is 30 percent contained and has stabilized at about 108 acres. ODF officials say they expect to be mopping it up soon.
Sunny skies, temperatures near 100 degrees, light winds and isolated thunderstorms are expected through the day Friday, weather conditions that won’t help the firefighting effort.