Scott Graves
Curry Coastal Pilot

For the first time in days, residents in Brookings and Harbor on Tuesday were breathing easier — not because there’s less smoke and cool fog, but fire officials are confident that crews can maintain fire lines protecting the community against the Chetco Bar Fire.

The fire, now at 117,669 acres, was 5 percent contained and about five miles from Brookings. On Monday, several structural protection teams in the Brookings area were released from duty, according to fire information officer Terry Krasko.

“This is the first time we’ve had any containment, and we’ve gained some certitude that we will hold the lines closest to Brookings,” Krasko said. “We saw the release of structure protection crews last night, and that’s a really good sign.”

Another good sign was Monday’s reduction in the evacuation level for residents and businesses on the South Bank Chetco River Road.

Curry County Sheriff John Ward decided, based on the latest information from fire officials, to reduced the Level 3 notice (leave immediately) to a Level 2 (be ready) from the junction of Shady Lane and South Bank Chetco River Road east to and including Freeman Rock and Salmon Run golf course.

However, a Level 3 evacuation orders remains in place for those living in areas along Carpenterville Road which lie north of Bosley Butte Road along Summit Ridge and north to Sundown Mountain.

“Things have eased up for Brookings, but we’re keeping an eye on the south end of the fire and the northwest side, where their fire has grown significantly,” Ward said.

Fire officials reported Tuesday morning that 1,500 fire personnel were battling the fire, which was expected to be very active today and Wednesday because of warm, dry weather and windy conditions.

Ridgetop temperatures could reach the 90s. Fire burning in the tops of single trees and groups of trees is anticipated, with the potential for embers to fly up to 0.4 miles ahead of the fire. There is a high potential for large fire growth in areas where wind and terrain align.

The fire is expected to burn hot on the southern flank, in the Emily Creek drainage, the east fork of the Pistol River and along the eastern flank in the Kalimiopsis Wilderness.

“The area near Mount Emily is a big concern,” Ward said Tuesday morning. “There are 200 acres burning that they can’t get to because of the steep terrain and no roads. There’s also a lot of smoke so they can’t attack it from the air.”

Krasko said fire crews today were going to focus on building contingent lines in ahead of the fire in the Mount Emily area, as well on the northern flank, where flames could threaten structures in the Pistol River drainage area.

An additional 100 National Guard wildland firefighters are coming to assist with mop up operations on the fire’s western perimeter, Krasko said.

On Monday, shading from smoke helped moderate fire activity, but it also presented challenges to aerial attack due to poor visibility. In the afternoon, however, smoke cleared enough that helicopters were able to work the northwest edge of the fire to support of crews and heavy equipment.