Firefighters on Milepost 97 Fire preparing for warmer, drier weather

CANYONVILLE, Ore. -- Firefighters are preparing for hotter, drier weather this weekend as they continue fighting the Milepost 97 Fire, which has burned approximately 13,128 acres and is 30% contained, as of Thursday. So far, 586 structures are threatened by the fire.

Officials said cooler temperatures and increased humidity have been helpful, but things are going to heat up soon. There are currently about 1,505 personnel on the fire. 

The cost is now estimated to be $8 million.

ROAD CONDITIONS: LANE CLOSURES, DELAYS AND MORE

Officials said burnout operations have been successful, and the southeast edge of the fire is fully lined. Crews are continuing to remove hazardous trees and look for spot fires.

A community meeting was set for 7 p.m. Thursday at North Valley High School, 6741 Monument Drive, Grants Pass, to provide more information on the fire and the impact of smoke from the wildfire. 

The Glendale and Azalea rural fire departments are now responsible for protecting structures threatened by the fire.

On Tuesday firefighters preserved nearly 3,000 acres of timberland and likely saved tens of thousands of dollars in firefighting costs by building the line right up against the fire, officials said. The fire also grew more slowly than in any other 24 hour period since it started July 24, growing just 242 acres.

Due to the progress that's been made, on Tuesday the Douglas County Sheriff's Office reduced the evacuation level from Level 3 "Go" to Level 2 "Be Set" for residents in the 100 to 300 blocks of Ritchie Road. 

So far nine firefighters have been injured since the fire started last week. Recently one firefighter was injured after being hit by rolling debris. Officials said the firefighter was taken to Rogue Valley Medical Center and released Monday morning. Last week one firefighter was taken to the hospital for a heat-related illness.

RELATED: MILEPOST 97 FIRE JUMPS ACROSS I-5

"Today's a great day for opportunity," ODF Incident Commander Link Smith said on Monday when the weather first started to cool down.

Officials said on Monday they had air support help to cool the fire’s edge so that firefighters could gain closer access. Helicopters and Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) are serving as the primary aviation resources on the fire. SEATs dropped 26 loads of retardant on the fire Monday -- a total of 18,549 gallons.

Mop up operations have begun around the north end of the fire to further secure containment lines.

MORE: RESPONDERS ESTABLISH CAMP FOR MILEPOST 97 FIRE

DFPA officials said the fire could take weeks to contain and control but Canyonville is not immediately threatened by the fire, as the flames are moving south away from the city.

Investigators said it's likely an illegal campfire started the fire, which has been burning along Interstate 5 south of Canyonville since July 24.

RELATED: TRAILER FILLED WITH EQUIPMENT USED IN MILEPOST 97 FIRE GOES MISSING

As the Milepost 97 Fire continues to spread south along I-5, nearby residents have been issued various evacuation notices.

READ MORE: DCSO OFFERS ALERT SYSTEM

Many homes are under a Level 2 "Be Set" evacuation notice. All residences on the west side of the freeway between mileposts 88 and 83 were affected, including residences on:

  • Barton Road
  • Azalea-Glen Road
  • Old Booth Lane
  • Harrel Lane
  • Hobbs Lane
  • Fortune Branch Road on the Azalea-Glen side
  • Forrest Road
  • Realty Road
  • Quines Creek Road
  • Mobley Drive
  • Ritchie Road

Residences off of Upper Cow Creek Road starting at milepost 88, east to the base of Galesville Dam, are also included.

Level 2 "Be Set" means the area is in significant danger, and residents are encouraged to leave. Those who stay should be ready to leave at any given moment. Residents should prepare a "go kit" with essential items to last two weeks.

A Level 1 " Be Ready" notice is also being issued for all residents in these locations:

  • Windy Creek Road at and above Woods Creek Road
  • Barton Road south to Glendale Junction Road

To find out what evacuation level you are under, click here.

The fire has also led to road closures.

Officials with the Oregon Department of Transportation said Interstate 5 Southbound is limited to a single lane from milepost 97 to 95, about two miles south of Canyonville. They said the lane closure allows fire crews to clear debris from the side of the road.

ODOT officials said to watch out for possible congestion and delays. They said northbound and southbound off-ramps at Exit 95 remain closed. For the latest road conditions, click here.

The fire is actively burning in a old fire scar from the 1980s, where there is a significant amount of standing dead trees with heavy brush beneath them. Officials said the terrain is steep and rocky. Falling trees, rolling rocks and strong winds are presenting challenges to firefighters in their efforts to contain the blaze.

READ ON: MILEPOST 97 FIRE AT 1,650 ACRES

The area includes private industrial timberlands, O&C Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and lands held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the Cow Creek Tribe.

Crews from the DFPA and Canyonville -- South Umpqua Fire Department first responded to the fire at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, July 24. They had containment lines around the bottom half of the fire and continued to work on the fire, which at the time was said to be 25% contained.

Douglas Forest Protective Association officials said fire activity picked up Thursday as temperatures grew hotter. They had five helicopters working on the fire that day. At the time, fire officials said the fire was burning uphill and not toward Canyonville.

An Oregon Department of Forestry team took command from the Douglas Forest Protective Association at 6 p.m. on Friday.

On Saturday, shifting winds caused the Milepost 97 Fire to jump across Interstate 5 near the Turkey Creek area by milepost 94. ODF told KEZI 9 News both air and ground crews immediately responded. That night, 270 people -- 50% more than they had on Friday night -- worked to contain spot fires and search for additional ones.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 4474

Reported Deaths: 159
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