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Flare-up on Big Windy Complex sends smoke into valley

 Posted: 10:10 AM September 12, 2013

A 20-acre patch of previously-untouched terrain in the Big Windy Complex fire's northeast quadrant caught fire Wednesday and sent smoke drifting back into the Rogue Valley.

That patch, located near the confluence of Anna Creek and Howard Creek, is located in a hard-to-reach portion of steep terrain that fire crews were not able to hike to, officials said. It's part of the 25,775 acres that have burned on the complex , which was sparked by lightning July 26 near the Rogue River.

"It's the only unlined part of the fire," said Brian Ballou, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry. "(We said) 'If we're going to get a flare up, it's probably going to be in there,' and it did."

The new ignition of vegetation was in an area of loose, rocky soil on steep hillsides. Smoke from the new flames poured into Galice, Wolf Creek, Grants Pass and Jacksonville.

"You can see the haze in the Rogue Valley around here," Ballou said.

Crews attacked the new flare-up by dropping water from a helicopter Wednesday afternoon into the evening hours. Crews managed to keep it at bay and will continue to keep an eye on it and other unburned areas today.

"There's a lot of area in there the main fire didn't completely burn, so there's a lot of area that could just take off again," Ballou said.

Crews now consider the Big Windy Complex 90 percent contained.

Air quality levels measured by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality shows Medford and Grants Pass maintained an overall "good" level for Wednesday, despite the smoke. Medford has since dipped into the "moderate" level, meaning air quality could be of concern to sensitive individuals, DEQ data shows.

— Ryan Pfeil

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