In a weekend marked by intense thunderstorms, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) Southwest Oregon District sprang into action to combat a series of fires that erupted across Jackson and Josephine counties. The storms, which commenced on Saturday afternoon, saw nearly 300 lightning strikes recorded by the US National Weather Service Medford, with Jackson County being the primary target. The outcome was a slew of lightning-caused fires that swept across both private and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) territories.
Among the fires, the Heppsie Mountain Fire raged on BLM’s Heppsie Mountain, south of Highway 140 and east of Lakecreek. Initially reported around 1:30 p.m. on Sunday as a grassfire on the hillside, the inferno grew to become the largest of the fires, but was successfully halted at nine acres. Firefighters on the ground, in tandem with aerial support, focused their efforts to establish temporary fire lines using retardant. Overnight operations helped solidify these lines, resulting in the fire being 100% lined and 15% mopped up by morning.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Jackson County Emergency Management previously placed portions of South Fork Little Butte Creek and Eagle Point under LEVEL 1 and 2 evacuation notices, which have since been lifted as of this morning.
The Collings Mountain Fire, the second-largest blaze, emerged on private land north of Applegate Lake. Presently, the fire is reported to be 90% mopped up. The challenging terrain of steep, rocky landscapes has posed obstacles to the establishment of fire lines, pushing firefighters to meticulously douse hotspots and diligently monitor perimeters for lingering heat. Despite the progress, this fire maintains a hold at just under three acres.
Out of the ten other fires, all have been extinguished except for two, which are currently undergoing mop-up operations. These fires varied in size, ranging from two acres down to a mere 1/100th of an acre. Swift work from the firefighting teams has quelled these incidents, but the threat of additional lightning-caused fires looms. Holdover fires, able to smolder for extended periods, remain a concern and can reignite under favorable conditions.
The firefighting teams remain prepared to respond to new fire reports. The Detection Center staff is also actively monitoring areas affected by lightning for any signs of smoke or fire. While an increase in thunderstorm activity is predicted for the upcoming week, accompanied by rain moving north from the downgraded subtropical storm Hillary, Extreme Fire Danger persists in Jackson and Josephine counties. It is important for the public to adhere to fire regulations outlined here to prevent human-caused fires that could further strain firefighting efforts.
In addition to the ongoing blazes, ODF also dispatched resources to tackle a fire near North Valley High School outside of Grants Pass on Sunday afternoon. Quick action led to containment at an estimated 15 acres, safeguarding the surrounding homes from any damage. The cause of this fire is currently under investigation.