Fires sparked by a surprise thunderstorm three days ago were burning approximately 15,800 acres in south Douglas County and northern Josephine County today, fire officials said.
Officials have grouped the fires into two clusters — the Douglas Complex seven miles north of Glendale and the Whiskey Complex six miles east of Tiller.
The Douglas Complex, the larger one, had reached 13,400 acres by daylight and could grow to 20,000 acres by this afternoon, Oregon Department of Forestry spokeswoman Angie Johnson said today.
Fire officials described the behavior and growth potential as “extreme” and anticipated the flames to kick up in afternoon winds, as they did Sunday.
The fire is burning mostly on Bureau of Land Management wildlands. “The fire definitely was getting more active in the afternoon. We expect more of the same today,” BLM spokesman Cheyne Rossbach said.
Meanwhile, the four fires that make up the Whiskey Complex were burning on 2,400 acres, Oregon Incident Management Team spokeswoman Alexis West said today.
No buildings were in immediate danger, though firefighters have set up protection for three structures, West said from firefighters’ command post at Milo Academy.
The fires were about 5 percent contained, she said.
The Douglas Complex started with 54 lightning-caused fires. The number has changed as fires were extinguished and new fires flared. Fire officials did not have an exact count today.
A total of 54 homes have been evacuated, most northwest of Glendale. Another 400 residences were considered threatened.
The Red Cross has set up an emergency shelter at Glendale Elementary School, where five people stayed the night, the shelter’s manager, Donda King of Roseburg, said.
Glendale resident Stella Sanchez, 61, and her husband, Raul, spent the night on cots in the school gym. This morning, they ate cereal for breakfast and talked about the harried hour they had Saturday to grab medicine, clothes and important papers before evacuating.
Stella Sanchez said that for some reason she was concerned about leaving behind a dirty floor and started sweeping. “I lost it mentally. My husband kept telling me to calm down,” she said.
She said her husband suggested Friday evening that they prepare to evacuate, but she pooh-poohed the idea.
“If I had taken it more seriously, I could have packed more sentimental things,” Stella Sanchez said. “So next time, we’ll have something ready if we have to evacuate.”
Their son, Robert, has been checking on their house and animals and had reported the flames were about 1,000 feet from their house.
“I can’t get my stomach to settle down. I’m just so nervous about the animals,” Stella Sanchez said. “My biggest fear is finding our home burnt down and having to start all over.”
Another Glendale resident at the shelter, Margaret Lee, 73, returned this morning from a trip to Seattle and was relieved to learn the fire was still a half mile from her home.
“I knew things were going to be all right.” she said.
The Douglas Complex was only 2 percent contained. By this morning, 1,024 people were assigned to the fire, and the number was expected to increase to 1,400 later in the day. The arsenal of equipment at firefighters’ disposal this morning included 11 helicopters.
Smoke blowing into Glendale grew thicker this morning as the wind shifted.
“It’s very smoky out here. You can’t see the hillside, and the smoke is way low this morning,” said Frankie Barker, who along with her husband, Richard, are among the Glendale residents warned to be on standby for an evacuation.
“They came by yesterday and put us on alert and said if things changed they would go door-to-door and notify us, which I hope they do,” Frankie Barker said.
If they have to leave, the couple plan to take their dog, four cats and six chickens with them.
“I just have a few things packed. I am not worrying about the furniture or anything like that. If we have to go, we have to go,” she said.
Glendale resident Rose Hillman said from her home on Gilbert Avenue today that a fire was burning about two miles on one side of the house and three miles from the other side.
“I am right in the middle of it,” Hillman said. “It’s burning directly behind the house and west of the house.”
She said the fires were burning heavily at midnight Sunday, pushing more smoke into town.
“I was just sitting on my front porch, looking at the fire. I could see flames,” she said. “Now, I can’t see anything. We’re totally smoked in, and we’re getting bad air now, which we haven’t had.”
Hillman said she is not on alert for evacuation but is prepared.
“I think we are fairly safe right now unless the wind shifts,” she said. “Everyone I know has their important papers all packed up in their rigs just in case. I did that Friday night … just taking the essentials, any spare cash, a few changes of clothing.”
The only structure reported lost in the fires so far was a bridge in the Douglas Complex. The exact location of the bridge was unavailable this morning.
The Douglas Complex has been divided into three branches: Milo on the east side of Interstate 5; the Rabbit Mountain and Union Creek on the west side of Interstate 5 and northwest of Glendale; and Dad’s Creek and Panther Butte, west of Glendale.
Fire officials described the Milo branch as the smallest, with all fires fewer than 20 acres. The fires have been lined, and firefighters are mopping up.
The two main fires that make up the Rabbit Mountain and Union Creek branch have grown together and crossed Cow Creek on the south end of the fire, officials said.
Firefighters today planned to attack the east and north sides of the fire today.
The fires have forced the closure of Cow Creek Road from Riddle.
Fire officials are directing the battle against the blazes from a command post at Glendale High School.
The fires have drawn a multi-agency response, with firefighters and supervisors from the Oregon State Fire Marshal and Oregon Department of Forestry joining local forces. Fire resources also have been drawn from Lane, Marion and Lincoln counties.
Fire officials planned to hold a community meeting to update the public on the fires 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Glendale Elementary School gym. A meeting on the fires Sunday afternoon at the school was attended by about 400 people.
The largest fires in the Whiskey Complex, the Whiskey and Big Brother fires, have combined to spread across 2,030 acres. The smaller fires in the complex are the Buckeye Fire at 349 acres and the Smith Ridge Fire at 21 acres.
West said fire officials were able to pinpoint the size of the fires by flying over in the dark and measuring them with an infrared camera.
Some 410 people were on the cluster of fires this morning.
“We’re looking for another good day of work out there,” she said.
For Tiller residents, the fires were putting on a smoky show, but not threatening their homes.
“I think Tiller itself is pretty safe,” Tiller resident Angela Hunt said. “But there are lots of house in the woods and lots of people tucked away in the forest and up and down the river, and that’s where it becomes risky.”
Marcey Curtis, who lives about two miles from Tiller on Salt Creek Road, said she watched flames grow on higher elevations Saturday night.
“It’s a whole bunch of smoke. Today is worse. I can’t really see. I couldn’t even see the top of the mountain earlier. I am sure once the wind comes up the smoke will (clear), but that is not good for the firefighters,” she said.
• Reporter Betsy Swanback can be reached at 541-957-4208 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Reporter Christina George can be reached at 541-957-4202 or email@example.com.