U-Haul vans were backed up to the doors of the Curry County Fairgrounds Sunday as firefighters loaded equipment they’ve been using to manage and coordinate the Klondike Fire that raged through the backcountry this summer.
The fire was one of dozens sparked during a thunderstorm that moved through the region July 15. The Klondike Fire ignited 9 miles north of Selma and spread north. It eventually merged with the Taylor Creek Fire and was eventually being managed by two teams, one on the eastern flank in Selma and the other on the west, based in Gold Beach.
At one point, fire officials declared the megafire out — crews had even pulled water tanks and hundreds of miles of hoses from the forest — when a Chetco Effect wind reignited it. That incident resulted in the evacuation of many in the Agness area and a further burning of 5,000 acres.
“After a very long fire season, the management of the Klondike Fire was returned to a local management organization Monday,” said Incident Commander Doug Johnson, in the last update for the fire.
All inciweb, Facebook and email communications were suspended Monday.
Incident commanders cited the cooperation with the Oregon Department of Forestry, Coos Forest Protective Association, landowners and Curry, Coos and Josephine counties as to why operations worked so smoothly.
“We admire (the communities’) stamina and resilience as you faced these challenges this summer and fall,” said Deputy Incident Commander Ed Hiatt in a video thanking Agness and Gold Beach. “There were numerous and profound effects on your lives. The true test of communities is how you come together during stressful times. This was a huge effort; we couldn’t do it without the communities.”
“It was just another big year,” said Forest Service public affairs officer Virginia Gibbons. “All of it was signification, the duration, the effect to the community …”
She noted, too, the stress to all involved when a community is hit by back-to-back fires.
“Prior to this past year, we’ve had an average of a 15-year lull between fires: the Silver, the Biscuit to the Chetco Bar,” she said. “To have another fire year that big, is pretty significant.”
Forty-two teams worked the Klondike Fire, compared to 26 on the Chetco Bar Fire, Gibbons said.
“And we thought that was a lot — and it was,” she said of the Chetco Bar Fire. “A lot of our resources were here more than once. We’re calling them fire years as opposed to fire seasons because they’re lasting longer. And we’ve had some fairly active fire years the past decade, but to have two years in a row, on such a big scale, is pretty tough.”
And it’s not a given that communities will rally behind the firefighting efforts.
“We appreciate it when the local community appreciates the firefighters, but we realize it does impact them,” Gibbons said. “They accommodate the extra people, the vehicles, a lot of people coming in from the outside. Parking is affected, services are affected, people wait in lines longer because people are getting supplies — everything that goes along with it when it’s for that extended (period of) time. We are grateful for that hospitality, the understanding, the helping out.”
Last bits of work
A rainy weekend is to be followed by sunny skies and temperatures from 55 to 65 degrees and humidity of 25 to 35 percent. Winds were virtually non-existent in the backcountry Monday, reports said.
“No fire growth is expected today,” Johnson said. “Heavy fuels and stumps will continue to burn, and smoke will be visible while traveling near or in the fire area until significant precipitation is received.”
Firefighters checked for heat found in a flyover over the weekend, but no issues were found, he added.
Work will include restoring pastures near the Agness work center, clearing ditches on Forest Road 2308, grading and backhoe work and road repair on Forest Road 2509.
Patrols will continue in the Agness area.
The Evacuation Level 1 — Ready — remains in place for all residences near Oak Flat and Old House Creek roads and all residents on the north and south sides of the Agness Road from the Illinois River Bridge to Coon Rock Bridge.
The need for this level will be evaluated frequently and reduced as appropriate, Johnson said.
For evacuation updates, check the Curry County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.
Any additional information can be obtained on Rogue River–Siskiyou National Forest Facebook page or by calling 541-618-2113.
Closures over the Klondike Fire remain in effect for public safety and can be viewed at https://bit.ly/2JqTE99. Officials expect to lift closures by Sunday.
The Bureau of Land Management also rescinded all its emergency closures in Josephine County related to the Klondike and Taylor Fires. All BLM managed lands previously closed by the Klondike and Taylor Creek Fires are open.