Oregon Fires: Weekend Winds Alternately Clear Smoke, Rev Up Fires (& New Smoke)
Southern Oregonians got a dose of fresh air over the weekend from an increase in wind speeds. But the same winds that cleared wildfire smoke increased wildfire activity.Managers on the Sugar Pine Fire in northeast Jackson County reported the wind blowing embers and starting a spot fire a mile beyond fire lines on Saturday. Effective Sunday, The Sugar Pine Fire, really 19 separate fires, and the South Umpqua complex of three fires are being managed together. Some potential to slow the growth of the fires exists, as the fires burn into areas already burned by the Broken Lookout Fire in 2017.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown invoked the Conflagration Act for the Sugar Pine Fires as the weekend began, allowing the State Fire Marshal's office to take an active hand in firefighting and structural protection. Evacuation orders are in effect in the Elk Creek and Lost Creek drainages, although recreation facilities are open to Stewart State Park on the south side of Lost Creek Lake.
Recreation took a hit on the Rogue River when the Taylor Creek Fire burned down to the river, triggering a shutdown of all boating from Hog Creek landing to Galice, one of the prime rafting areas of the river. And fire crews closed Bear Camp Road on Friday, closing a back way from Grants Pass to Gold Beach and shutting an access road for rafting shuttles.
The Taylor Creek Fire and the Klondike Fire to the southwest remain more than five miles apart, but increased activity on the Klondike Fire brought evacuation notices down to U.S. Highway 199 in Selma. Managers on the Klondike expected the fire to push up to a mile east each day, as long as the winds persist.
The winds gave the Medford-Ashland area the cleanest air it had in weeks over the weekend, but only for short windows. On Saturday afternoon, several hours of air in the Moderate range in Medford shot straight into the Unhealthy range when the winds carried smoke from increased fire activity back into the valley.
By Sunday night, Medford's air quality index was listed as Hazardous, while Ashland's was just behind at Very Unhealthy. The winds may lessen as the new week begins, but temperatures are expected to rise back into the low 100s in the Rogue Valley, with lower humidities--prime fire weather.