Rum Creek Fire tops 20,000 acres

·4 min read

Sep. 6—With the Rum Creek Fire now topping 20,000 acres, firefighters are hoping a network of fire lines they've built will withstand gusty winds, dry fuels and temperatures reaching up to 105 degrees Tuesday.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for weather conditions that could cause the 20,029-acre fire northwest of Grants Pass to flare up and spread rapidly.

Firefighters worked aggressively over the long Labor Day weekend to cool and corral the fire, which was 34% contained as of Tuesday.

Containment refers only to lines so strong the fire is unlikely to cross over. Firefighters have built a network of lines around the fire, including backup contingency lines in many areas.

"The last few days have been quite good weather for our crews to be out there accomplishing really good work on the fire line and trying to button this fire up. However, these next couple days, including today, will challenge and test all that effort out there on the fire line," Dean Warner, a fire behavior analyst on the fire, said Tuesday.

Growth on the fire has been moderate over the past several days. It stood at 18,053 acres Friday morning.

The longest stretches of containment on the fire are along the south and east flanks closest to Merlin and Grants Pass. The fire hasn't reached the Hellgate Canyon Overlook, a popular pullout on Galice Road for people to view the rugged lower Rogue River canyon, according to Tuesday fire mapping.

In addition to testing fire lines Tuesday, the fire will burn interior pockets of fuel and could burn remnant fuels on previously scorched terrain, Warner predicted.

The fire could generate a smoke plume that collapses later in the day Tuesday, creating widespread smoke across the Rogue, Applegate and Illinois valleys. The Medford and Ashland areas will also see smoke from Northern California fires, predicted Amber Ortega, air quality advisor on the Rum Creek Fire.

Collapsing smoke plumes can prove dangerous if they create downdraft winds that fan a fire out past its perimeter, according to fire experts.

Firefighters continue to mop up residual heat near all fire lines. Their goal is to have a cold strip of ground near fire lines with minimal flammable fuel that could carry fire beyond containment lines, fire managers said Tuesday morning.

Aircraft are dropping water to cool hot areas and flare-ups near the fire's edges, especially in areas not accessible to fire engines and far from streams, fire managers said.

Retardant was dropped outside the fire lines in some areas to reduce the chance of spot fires outside the perimeter. At times, air operations have been restricted by limited visibility due to smoke, fire managers said.

On Sunday, firefighters wrapped up strategic firing, also known as backburning, to help deprive the fire of fuels near fire lines, managers said.

Structural firefighters from throughout the state continue to mop up remaining hot spots near homes and buildings, cut hazard trees and patrol areas along Galice Road. They're available to assist with other fire duties as needed, fire managers said.

The fire previously burned two homes and six other structures. Firefighter Logan Taylor, 25, of Talent was killed during the initial attack on the fire, ignited by lightning Aug. 17.

Roadblocks are in place to stop people from entering the area who shouldn't be there.

As of Tuesday morning, a wide area around Galice and Rand remained under a "Level 3 — Go Now" evacuation alert and all residents should have left the area. Rural homes to the south and east of the fire remain under a "Level 2 — Be Set" to leave at a moment's notice evacuation alert. Merlin and other areas farther from the fire on its north, east and south sides remain under a "Level 1 — Be Ready" alert.

For updates on evacuation zones, the latest mapping of the fire's footprint, information about emergency evacuation shelter and more, see facebook.com/josephinecountyEM.

For air quality updates, see oraqi.deq.state.or.us/home/map.

For general information about the Rum Creek Fire, including operations and acreage updates posted each morning, see inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/8348/.

To sign up for Citizen Alert evacuation alerts via phone, text or email, visit rvem.org.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.