Hot and dry conditions and steady winds transformed a smoldering brush pile into a 5-acre grass fire along East Butler Lane northeast of Ashland Thursday afternoon.
Fire crews rushed to the rural neighborhood at 12:08 p.m. to extinguish the blaze, which burned to within a few hundred feet of two homes located on nearby East Valley View Road.
A column of smoke rose several hundred feet into the sky as crews rang a second alarm immediately after arriving on scene at about 12:15 p.m., said Jackson County Fire District No. 5 Chief Dan Marshall.
"Our first concern was protecting the homes on the north side of the fire," Marshall said. "Luckily it burned into an irrigated pasture ... we were able to flank it from both sides and cut it off."
Crews had doused all of the active flames and had begun mop-up work by about 1 p.m., Marshall said.
Nobody was injured and no homes were damaged, he said.
Temperatures breaking 80 degrees, wind gusts as strong as 17 mph and a relative humidity in the low to mid-teens combined for a day vulnerable to fire, said Shad Keene, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Medford.
"It's warm today, and the wind came up and reignited the pile ... we had active fire and the wind was pushing it," Marshall said Thursday. "If this is a precursor, it looks like it's going to be a very busy fire season."
Marshall said the fire is being ruled as accidental and not due to negligence.
About 20 firefighters from District 5, Ashland Fire & Rescue and Oregon Department of Forestry assisted in extinguishing the blaze, Marshall said, and crews from Medford Fire-Rescue were asked to standby in Talent.
A Talent police officer was also on scene.
The fire started in a brush pile situated a foot from the road in the 300 block of East Butler Lane.
Joy and Larry Marshall lit the pile a week ago and were tending it day and night while it smoldered and burned through old limbs, grass clippings and other debris, they said.
"It's been smoldering off and on, but this hasn't happened in the seven days since it's been burning," said Larry Marshall, 71. "We had just looked at it an hour before and it looked like it was out."
Larry Marshall called the fire department, but a neighbor had already reported the smoke and crews were on their way by the time he got to the phone, he said.
"They've done an incredible job," he said.
Joy and Larry Marshall are cousins to Dan Marshall through marriage, they said.
Eric Berg, 51, who owns the property where the fire mostly spread, said he started running across his field to the Marshalls' home when he saw the brush pile flare up and begin spreading.
The pile was situated only a few feet outside a fence line surrounding Berg's field, but it was on his property, he said.
The fire also burned less than a quarter-acre in a field adjacent to Berg's property.
Berg moved his goats, turkeys and sheep out of harm's way when the fire started moving through his pasture toward his home, he said, and none were injured.
"The wind was blowing in a bad direction but I'm not as nervous now," he said, as firefighters a few hundred feet away blasted water over 10-foot flames flaring up at the head of the blaze. "They're getting it knocked down."
Berg and neighbors said the brush pile had been smoldering daily since last week.
"When people are burning keep in mind that a fire needs to be attended at all times, and you've got to have water out and ready at all times. Make sure it's raked out, watered and completely out before walking away," Dan Marshall said.
"They thought it was out, and just got caught with that little bit of wind ... this is what can happen."
Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Talent. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.