Milepost 97 Fire now 65% contained; cost estimated at $19.1 million

CANYONVILLE, Ore. -- Firefighters are steadily getting the Milepost 97 Fire under control south of Canyonville.

As of Tuesday, the fire is 65% contained, 10% more than Monday's estimate. The fire has burned about 13,119 acres, and the cost is currently estimated to be $19.1 million.

The fire started July 24, caused by an abandoned, illegal campfire. Crews converged on the fire within 15 to 30 minutes, fire officials said, but the fire's location caused difficulties. It was actively burning along Interstate 5 in a old fire scar from the 1980s, where there was a significant amount of standing dead trees with heavy brush beneath them.

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.

Also, officials said the terrain is steep and rocky, and falling trees, rolling rocks and strong winds presented challenges to firefighters in their efforts to contain the blaze.

The fire was completely surrounded after 10 days, and burnout operations allowed crews to secure lines, fall hazardous trees and mop up to prevent further spread. 

Thousands of acres of timberland, millions of dollars in fire suppression costs and hundreds of homes and lives have been saved, officials said.

And although the Milepost 97 Fire is getting under control, fire officials are warning the public that fire danger is currently high to extreme across Oregon. Many activities that could potentially start a fire are prohibited or restricted.

On Monday, all evacuation notices were lifted as crews continued to make progress fighting the Milepost 97 Fire.

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office said the change took effect at 10 a.m. The following residences are no longer under evacuation notices:

  • 100 to 300 blocks of Ritchie Road
  • West side of Interstate 5 between mileposts 88 and 83
    • Barton Road
    • Azalea Glen Road between mileposts 88 and Barton Road
    • Old Booth Lane
    • Harrel Lane
    • Hobbs Lane
    • Lizzie Lane
    • Fortune Branch Road on the Azalea-Glen side
    • Pack Lane
    • Forrest Road
    • Realty Road
    • Quines Creek Road
    • Mobley Drive
  • Upper Cow Creek Road starting at I-5 milepost 88, east to base of Galesville Dam

"There are no evacuation notices remaining in Douglas County at this time. However, we encourage everyone, no matter where they reside, to take time to think and plan for evacuations should the time come when a deputy is knocking on your door and telling you there is an imminent threat," Sgt. Brad O'Dell said. "Having a plan and knowing what you are going to do, what you are going to take and how you are going to execute your plan is critical in emergency situations."

RELATED: Officials report no growth for Milepost 97 Fire

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. Containment once again hit 0% before rising to the current level.

Douglas Forest Protective Association officials said fire activity picked up the next day 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, July 26.

Then, that 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.

A break in the heat and increased humidity helped firefighting efforts the week after.

"Today's a great day for opportunity," ODF Incident Commander Link Smith said on Monday, July 29, when the weather first started to cool down.

Officials said 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.

On Tuesday, July 30, 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 it had any other 24 hour period since it started July 24, growing just 242 acres.

Due to the progress that was 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. 

After firefighters made significant progress on the fire on Friday, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office reduced evacuation levels from Level 2 to Level 1.

Heading into the past weekend, crews prepared for hotter, drier weather. 

ROAD CONDITIONS: LANE CLOSURES, DELAYS AND MORE

At least nine firefighters have been injured since the fire's start. 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.

READ MORE: DCSO OFFERS ALERT SYSTEM

Due to the fire's proximity to the freeway, traffic has been impacted by firefighting efforts.

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.

READ ON: MILEPOST 97 FIRE AT 1,650 ACRES

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