The Big Windy Fire that ignited July 26 about 8 miles northwest of Galice has burned 23,708 acres as of Friday afternoon, despite sporadic rain showers that moved through the mountainous terrain the day before.
Those fires also brought lightning strikes to the area, igniting another 19 fires, of which 10 were in Josephine County and that crews were able to extinguish.
According to incident commander Ed Lewis, containment lines have held the smoldering fire at bay, and aircraft have been able to assist with attacks on the front lines. The fires were able to get a toehold in the dry forest early on due to temperature inversions in the valley that kept smoke low to the ground and limited visibility for helicopters and airplanes.
Goals this weekend are to contain the fire south of the Rogue River, and create alternate containment lines to prevent its spread if the first lines don’t hold. Firefighters also plan to use “indirect” tactics, including constructing fire line away from the fire’s edge. That method is often utilized when fire is “very active, with flame lengths of 4 feet or more, is fast moving, there are heavy amounts of fuel and very steep terrain,” Lewis said.
Other work involves clearing and disposing of vegetation, often down to mineral soil, and removing ladder fuels — low-lying shrubs and tree branches than serve as a ladder to treetops — adjacent to the fire line.
“Even when using existing roads (as a fire break), thinning and removing ladder fuels are often required adjacent to the road to stop the fire,” Lewis said. “Fires that move through the tree canopy or in heavy brush can easily move across a road. The goal is to get the fire to drop to the ground or reduce its intensity.”
More than 1,000 fire personnel are working in the steep and deeply forested terrain; the complex is 35 percent contained.
Temperatures cooled off substantially this week, from the mid- to upper-90s at the beginning of the week to the mid-60s Friday. Humidity was much higher, as well.
Other fires burning in southwest Oregon include the Labrador Fire south of Grants Pass and the Douglas Complex 7 miles north of Glendale. The Labrador Fire has remained at 2,023 acres for the past week; the Douglas Fire has burned 48,679 acres, but is 79 percent contained.
This summer, nearly 70,000 acres have burned in wildfires — six times the average at this point in the year, Oregon Department of Forestry officials noted in a press release.
Air quality in Cave Junction was deemed Friday to be “good,” requiring people to take no extra precautions. Smoke in Grants Pass, Medford and Roseburg is considered to be “moderate,” meaning those with compromised respiratory conditions shouldn’t exert themselves while outside.
Some smoke could, however, move north from fires in California and affect areas at higher elevations such as Crater Lake and Klamath Falls, officials said.
Daytime temperatures are forecast to be in the mid-60s over the weekend with a 20 percent chance of showers. Nighttime temperatures are predicted to be in the low-50s.