Thunderstorms that brought rain helped put a damper on the Chetco Bar Fire Thursday, giving fire crews a chance to re-enforce lines and quickly extinguish spot fires on the western side closest to Brookings, Pistol River and Winchuck River areas.

“We had quite a bit of moisture that went across the whole fire,” Incident Commander Noel Livingston said in a Friday morning fire briefing. “Overall, it was a very good day, with Mother Nature helping us out.”

At the same time, Curry County Sheriff John Ward announced Friday morning that residents living outside the Chetco Bar Fire perimeter in Level 3 (go now) evacuation areas can now return to their homes.

The areas include Pistol River Road, Carpenterville Road, North and South Bank Chetco River Roads and Gardner Ridge Road. Those areas will remain at Level 2 (be ready) status.

Residents must pick up re-entry materials from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the former Ray’s Food Place in Brookings.

“At this time I have received a recommendation from the Fire Incident Management Team due to the current weather we have along with the fire behavior, that all residents outside the fire perimeter who are in a current level 3 may now be moved back to a level 2,” Ward said.

“As long as the Fire Incident Management Team feels comfortable enough to make this recommendation, we will make this happen. We all need to be mindful that even though the level reduces, it does not mean the fire is out or no longer a threat and that all residents should be prepared to evacuate if that times comes again.”

The relief from Thursday’s rain will be short-lived as warm, dry weather is expected to quickly dry out vegetation this weekend, providing more fuel for the fire.

“This short weather event we just received doesn’t mean the fire is done,” Livingston said. “We’re here for the long term. We’re going to continue to have a lot of activity with the fire. We’re going to take advantage of this pause, but the show’s not over.”

One downside to the rain, he said, was that it prevented crews from burning vegetation ahead of the fire to take away fuel. The cloud cover also restricted aircraft from dropping water and retardant.

On the southwest edge, near the Winchuck River drainage, operations continued to hold and improve firelines while at the same time deploying more hose lines to be used in securing those lines.

The Oregon State Fire Marshal teams that have been preparing houses in the evacuation areas near Brookings for the last three weeks left Friday morning, which Livingston said was a good sign.

“The risk to the Brookings and the community is down to the point where we have some time that, if something should happen, we can get some people back in,” he said. “If we need them, they’ll be back.”

On Friday, Ward said he and other local authorities have constantly been looking for opportunities to let displaced residents return to their homes.

“We were doing evacuation notices on a daily basis and it seemed like when we would gain some ground, we would then lose it back causing additional evacuations, displacing people from their homes,” he said. “We have been staying out in front of the fire and taking every opportunity to re-home our residents. I know it has been a ping pong effect on many residents within the unincorporated area from level 3 to level 2 and back to level 3 due to the fire behavior.”

Looking ahead

As temperatures rise and humidity levels drop again over the next 72 hours, fire activity will pick up, he said. Areas where little activity occurred yesterday may hide burning roots that, when winds increase and humidity levels drop, will spread to nearby receptive fine fuels like grasses, leaves and small twigs.

Firefighters will continue to remove brush and vegetation along containment and contingency lines, and ensure that hoselays are in place and functioning properly.

Ongoing efforts include patrols for spot fires, extinguishing areas of heat within spot fires, fireline construction and, where containment lines have been secured by mop-up, fireline repair work (re-contouring lines to mitigate water runoff).

North of the fire, at the confluence of the Illinois and Rogue rivers, structure assessment and preparation continues in the community of Agnes.

Aircraft remain poised to respond as conditions change.

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