A tinge of smoke could be smelled in the air in Brookings Friday morning, as winds around the Klondike Fire east of town shifted

Many in the area were alarmed Thursday night when they spotted a huge pyrocumulus smoke cloud on the eastern horizon and feared it might be from a new fire. It, too, was from the Klondike Fire, and officials said such fire-generated clouds often kick up in the late afternoon and early evening as winds shift before nightfall.

More smoke is forecast for the weekend.

The fire today

The Klondike Fire is burning on 23,460 acres, 28 air-miles northeast of Brookings, 22 miles east of Gold Beach and about 12 miles southeast of Agness in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The fire began July 15 during a lightning storm that sparked 68 fires throughout the region.

The wildfire was at 19,530 acres on Wednesday, grew to 21,352 acres on Thursday, and is 5 percent contained.

According to the U.S. Forest Service’s inciweb reporting website, fire activity has been significant when the smoke clears and the 400-plus firefighters on the ground witness “torching, group-torching and spotting.”

Torching is when a tree is ignited at the lower part and burns rapidly like a Roman candle firework; spotting is when sparks from a fire — or even flames — leap ahead of the fire on winds and ignite other parts of the forest.

Plans remain to attack spot fires when feasible — movement is difficult in the steep, rugged terrain — and build indirect control lines.

According to Incident Commander Noel Livingston, who has been holding community briefings in Selma, 9 miles from the Klondike’s origin, construction is underway on an indirect line between the Klondike Fire and the Taylor Fire, 7 miles away. The goal is to keep the two separate.

Indirect lines are secondary lines often built far from the fire’s edge, and used as a backup in case a primary line fails, or built because rough geography or a lack of roads into an area make it impossible to build a line anywhere else.

“With that indirect line, we see a high probability of success with the resources we have and the fire behavior we expect,” Livingston said Thursday. “The primary line is essentially in, and we’re scouting, looking for opportunities on roads to the east to see if there are ways to tie in more directly. We’re also looking at private parcels where active timber sales are, to protect those.”

Residents saw — and criticized — this same plan last year, when firefighters built indirect containment lines. Lines to the south and east were 6 miles from the flanks of the Chetco Bar Fire due to geographical constraints. And some were overcome in the fierce Chetco Effect wind patterns that hit the weekend of Aug. 16 and doubled the size of the fire.

Livingston noted officials are monitoring the fire behavior to determine how effective any containment lines will be.

“We need to find out where it’s spread, how fast is it moving to that line, see if there are opportunities to move in closer to provide protection to private land and natural resources,” he said. “The way to look at it is, we have a good place (indirect line), now we’re looking to move in a little closer.”

Fire crews are using infrared data they obtain from flights over the fire to monitor and report new fire growth near the Illinois River. Last week, they’d hoped to use the river as a containment line, but spot fires quickly jumped it and ignited the forest on the other side, reports indicated.

Today, they plan to hold and patrol the east side and identify and make more containment lines, as well as monitor any fire spread toward the scar of the Chetco Bar Fire.

Timber companies worked all winter to obtain as much of the burned wood from that fire as possible before bugs, then rot, set in. How much remains that could easily burn has yet to be determined, but fire officials hope to use the scar and that of the 2002 Biscuit fire as buffers against the flames of the Klondike Fire.

August 3

Fire crews expected the fire to spread up to a mile on the east side Friday and continue spreading about a quarter-mile to the north of of the Illinois River on the west side of the fire. Additionally, they anticipated seeing limited spread north and south on the east half of the fire. Spotting could reach a quarter-mile away — and more, if the smoke again lifts and the fire gets active again, inciweb reported.

Over the weekend, reports indicate, the east side of the fire is likely to spread back to the area it burned out in the east. But another quarter-mile is expected to burn north of the Illinois, and again, minimal burning on the north and south sides.

“There is continued concern for the possibility of increased fire behavior where wind and topographic features align,” the report reads regarding Saturday and Sunday forecasts. Behavior is expected to include “active surface spread” and short runs uphill when the smoke clears.

An offshore low pressure system will provide a cooling trend and increase humidity throughout the weekend. Light northwesterly winds will shift to southwesterly, with gusts up to 20 mph.

Fire trends

According to Reveal, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization, since 1983, about 72,000 fires burn in America every year.

“That number has not grown,” a report reads. “But the acreage has — 10 million acres burned last year, which is nearly eight times as much as in 1983.”

This year, based on the 10-year average through Aug. 1, 6 percent fewer fires are burning. But the acreage burned so far is 27 percent more than in that same time period.

And August and September, typically the most active months for wildfires, are on the horizon.

Reach Jane Stebbins at jstebbins@currypilot.com .

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