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Chetco Bar Fire: 'Every bit of rain helps'

East Zone of Chetco Bar Fire. Looking down the smoke filled Illinois River towards the swinging bridge, late morning before rain, September 7, 2017. (via Chetco Bar Fire Information)

BROOKINGS, Ore. -- There is a community meeting planned for Sunday, September 10, at 6 p.m. at Cave Junction High School. People are encouraged to attend to receive an update on Chetco Bar Fire activity and to talk to fire managers about their strategies and effort.

Thursday was wet across much of the Chetco East Zone Fire. After numerous, sometimes intense, showers, some places had received 1/4 to 1/2 inch of precipitation. Some sites even received a full inch of rain.

"Will this help the fires?" was a frequent, hopeful question voiced by community members.

"Every bit of rain helps," said Operations Section Chief Pat Halford. "It temporarily raises the humidity, dampens the fuels, reduces fire activity and slows fire growth."

However, the rains were not evenly distributed and, especially in thick brush and under a forest canopy and large dead logs, the rain didn't penetrate or wasn't sufficient to make a difference. The fine fuels will dry out quickly as weather begins to warm again. Firefighters will be taking advantage of this respite to continue their work. They will be attentive to the locations where more active fire potential still exists and the time it will return. Weather will dry out, heat up, and become more windy from Saturday to Monday.

Unfortunately, officials said, lightning associated with the rain diverted some of the firefighting equipment and resources to high priority initial attack work. For example, three new fires on the Wild Rivers Ranger District required suppression. Two were controlled at 1/10 acre, but the third (2 acres) was lined and will continue to be worked today. We can't control lightning, but everyone should continue to be careful with fire and their vehicles in order to prevent new fires from starting, they said.

Friday's work includes finishing almost all the structure protection planned along the Illinois River Road's Level 3 "Go!" Evacuation Notification corridor. The roof at the Store Gulch Guard Station became too slippery for firefighters applying the last pieces of protective foil fabric, so that work remains. The communication sites at Eight Dollar Mountain and Fiddler Mountain will be further assessed for their protection needs today.

Biscuit Fire containment dozer lines from the California border to Squaw Mountain (about 4 1/2 miles west of Hayes Hill) have almost fully received at least one pass of a dozer, which is being followed by fallers removing snags and five 20-person hand crews brushing and cleaning remaining flammable materials away. There's a rocky area above the headwaters of Parker Creek that will be evaluated to see whether it's adequately prepared to block fire. As these projects are completed, containment line re-opening work will be extended to the North.

As containment lines are completed and fire behavior moderates, more direct fireline routes will be sought, from safe anchor points, closer to the areas that are currently burning.

Fire Size: The entire Chetco Bar Fire is about 177,301 acres. No infrared flight was completed last night, but the fire was not actively spreading. It is approximately 8 miles from private land outside the National Forest boundary and communities in Josephine County, east of the fire.

Smoke: Heavy smoke has affected many parts of Josephine County for many days. The rain removed some of the particulates, improving smoke levels one to two categories, such as from "unhealthy" to "unhealthy for sensitive groups" or even to "moderate." Today's smoke level in Grants Pass is forecast as "moderate" indicating that people with asthma, respiratory infection, diabetes, lung or heart disease, or have had a stroke should limit outdoor activities or do activities that take less effort, such as walking instead of running. Public information about forest fires and smoke conditions is available at http://oregonsmoke.blogspot.com.

Closures and Restrictions: Many areas and activities are closed or restricted due to current and expected fire activity and hazard. More details are available on https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/closures/5385/. The BLM has closed its trailhead at Eight Dollar Mountain.

In Josephine County, a Level 1 "Ready" Evacuation Notification affects private and BLM land on the west side of Hwy 199 from Hayes Hill to the California border. This action is intended to raise awareness of fire in the vicinity and get people thinking about necessary steps they would take if asked to evacuate. About ten miles along the Illinois River Road from the National Forest boundary located two miles west of Selma to Oak Flat is under Level 3 "Go" Evacuation Notification. Residents were advised to leave this area and it is closed to everyone except firefighting personnel. People can view maps of the current Evacuation Notification areas at http://arcg.is/2vWQ2N. By typing their address into the dark blue line, they can see where their home is located in relation to the current Evacuation warnings.


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