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Smoky wildfires continue to grow, reaching 39,000 acres

 Posted: 10:15 AM August 01, 2013

As firefighters continue to battle fires creeping into the urban interface of southwestern Oregon, they are closely watching two fires in the remote mountains where roads are nearly nonexistent.

Both the 3,700-acre Big Windy complex fire in the lower Rogue River drainage and the nearly 2,000-acre Labrador fire on the edge of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness have the potential to grow into huge fires, officials warn.

The fires spawning smoke throughout the region grew to a combined 39,000 acres as of this morning. Several small fire are also burning along the Salmon River in northern California.

"The main goal on the Big Windy is to keep it south of the river," explained Megan Harper, a spokeswoman for the joint command organizing the firefighting campaign.

"We are sending in more resources to help work on the fire lines," she said, noting that about 270 firefighters are now on that fire about 25 miles northwest of Grants Pass.

"We are also getting some help from the Oregon Army National Guard," she said. "They are bringing in air support."

That will include helicopters capable of carrying large buckets to douse hot spots, she said, noting that will happen once the smoke clears enough for the aircraft to fly safely.

The fire is currently moving southeast toward the old Galice fire scar and the area burned by the 2002 Biscuit fire. Crews have been assigned to provide protection for the Black Bar Lodge and Zane Grey cabin.

Six medivac sites have been established for quick response to emergencies.

Bear Camp Road is closed, as are trails through the area. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has closed the wild section of the lower Rogue to river floaters because the smoke inhibits any aerial river rescues should one be needed.

On the Labrador fire a half-dozen air miles west of Selma, some 540 firefighters have been deployed, she said.

"They are letting that fire burn where it is in the wilderness," Harper said. "But they are keeping a watchful eye on it. They are removing brush along the roads outside the wilderness to prepare fire lines if it leaves the wilderness."

It is a long-standing U.S. Forest Service policy not to fight fires in wilderness areas, letting nature take its course in those areas. The Kalmiopsis is in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

More than 3,500 firefighters from throughout the region and the nation have been deployed to battle the growing blazes. As of Thursday morning, no homes had been burned and no major injuries reported.

The largest of the estimated 75 fires sparked by July 26 dry lightning storms remains the Douglas Complex fire which has grown to more than 25,400 acres. That fire is seven miles north of Glendale.

More than 100 homes have been evacuated and a pre-evacuation notice issued to more than 40 other residences.

The 2,000-acre Brimstone fire about 10 miles northwest of Merlin is about 10 percent contained. About 800 firefighters have been sent to that blaze.

In northern California, several small fires were started along the Salmon River near Sawyers Bar Wednesday evening, according to Klamath National Forest officials. Cause of the fires is under investigation.

Three small fires were contained but the Shelly fire has grown to about 60 acres in steep, timbered terrain. An air tanker was expected to help ground-based firefighters today, officials said.

Highway 93 is closed near Butler Flat because of fire debris rolling across the road.

— Paul Fattig

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