A wildfire that started last week along I-5 in southwestern Oregon is now nearly 12,000 acres in size. The Milepost 97 fire, named for its location along the interstate, was reported last Wednesday, July 24, around 10:00 p.m. a mile south of Canyonville. At that time it was only half an acre in size. But it spread quickly across 9,000 acres by Saturday morning, July 27.
The fire is burning in steep, rocky terrain with limited access, in an area that has been abnormally dry for several weeks. Strong winds, high temperatures and low humidity over the weekend contributed to very active fire behavior. Ground crews worked long hours to establish a fire line where the terrain and conditions allowed, while being supported by a number of air resources. The fire is burning within a fire scar from 1987 filled with hazardous snags and overgrown brush. Shifting winds caused the fire to spot across I-5 near the Turkey Creek/Milepost 94 area late Saturday afternoon.
On Sunday, July 28, crews continued to make progress along the northern edge of fire and continued building and strengthening the line along the western edge. According to InciWeb, more than 1,000 firefighters are working the fire as of 1:00 p.m. this afternoon, July 29 – 694 day shift and 350 night shift – and the fire is 10 percent contained. More than 500 structures are at risk, but none have been damaged or destroyed so far.
Truckers may run into delays through the wildfire area as I-5 is down to one lane. This is the latest from the Oregon Department of Transportation regarding I-5 just south of Canyonville:
• Southbound slow lane; ramps affected; watch for fire crews and expect smoky conditions.
• Southbound off-ramp at Exit 95 (Canyon Creek), is closed due to the wildfire; the northbound Exit 95 off-ramp is closed for construction.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office issued a Level 2 “Get Set” evacuation level for everyone who lives on the west side of I-5, between mileposts 88 and 83. This includes the following areas:
• 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
• Upper Cow Creek Road starting at I-5 milepost 88 east to the base of Galesville Dam
A Level 2 “Get Set” indicates significant danger to these areas, and residents are encouraged to leave. If they decide to stay, they should be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
Other neighborhoods are under a Level 1 ” Be Ready” notice. This includes the following areas:
• Windy Creek Road at and above Woods Creek Road
• Barton Road south to Glendale Junction Road
Level 1 means people in these areas should be ready for the potential to evacuate. Have a “go kit” ready, as well as evacuation plan for your family and pets. Be “fire-wise” and create a defensible space around your home.
There is some promising news! Link Smith, Incident Commander for the Oregon Department of Forestry Incident Management Team that is in charge of the suppression effort, told firefighters early this afternoon that “Today’s a great day for opportunity.” The opportunity he is referring to is the weather.
A marine layer is expected to cool down the area today, in addition to some cloud cover and elevated humidity. These conditions should allow crews closer access to the fire’s edge. They should also make it easier for the cres to perform burnout operations that remove forest fuels between established control lines and the main fire.
The fire continues to move at a slow pace toward the south, parallel to I-5. Firefighters and aircraft are focusing much of the suppression effort on this southern portion of the fire in order to prevent further spread towards populated areas. Crews continue to construct contingency control lines along ridges and existing road systems to the west of the fire.
Investigators said their initial findings indicated that the source of the Milepost 97 wildfire was related to an illegal campfire.
FreightWaves SONAR shows other parts of the northwestern U.S., mainly in the northern Rocky Mountains, are prone to wildfire development. The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning from eastern Idaho to Helena, Montana, lasting until at least this evening, Pacific time.