TRI CITY — Containment on the Milepost 97 Fire jumped 10 percentage points Tuesday to 25% — the largest increase since the fire began one week ago.
The fire had burned 12,578 acres as of Wednesday morning.
The fire burning south of Canyonville and west of Interstate 5 is the second largest uncontained fire in the conterminous United States. It was the largest, until the Tucker Fire in Northern California grew to more than 14,200 acres Tuesday night.
Although Incident Commander Link Smith said firefighters took advantage of more favorable weather Tuesday, Oregon Department of Forestry officials at the incident command center in Tri City said there’s still a substantial amount of work to do in multiple areas of the fire.
“Given the conditions, large burnout operations that were planned for the day were not necessary,” Smith said in his morning briefing. “Fire crews were able to preserve nearly 3,000 acres of timberland, and possibly save tens of thousands of dollars in fire suppression costs by building line right up against the fire.”
There is 1,464 personnel currently working at the incident.
Resources include 57 hand crews, 44 engines, 20 dozers and 26 water tenders. Aircraft includes 17 helicopters and two single-engine air tankers, which have been refueling at the Roseburg Regional Airport.
Crews will continue felling hazardous trees along I-5 southbound Wednesday, leading to periodic slowdowns on the highway, said Operations Section Chief Tyler McCarty in his morning operations briefing.
McCarty said the focus Wednesday will be to secure fire lines south of Tellurium Peak near the fire’s northwestern edge. Safety issues prevented crews from securing the fire line overnight Tuesday.
“The division supervisor and crews are going to get in there and assess the situation this morning,” McCarty said.
On Tuesday afternoon, looking at the fire’s northwestern edge from the top of Canyon Mountain, which was the center of firefighting efforts early in the blaze, helicopters could be seen flying through thick smoke and dumping water. Firefighters discussed visibility issues over the radio.
Crews on top of Canyon Mountain continued to lay hose lines down from the peak, which was covered in pink fire retardant from days earlier. The fire retardant helped keep flames away from two radio towers.
Crews will also continue to mop up spot fires around the homes on Ritchie Road. Residents, who were evacuated from the area on Thursday, were able to return home Tuesday for the first time since leaving. The houses were completely undamaged, said resident Jayonna Hunnell. A hotshot crew out of Grants Pass helped keep the houses safe, said ODF spokeswoman Brooke Burgess.
McCarty said he expects crews Wednesday to put out all hotspots in the 20-acre area that burned east of I-5. On Tuesday, crews dragged hoses up steep charred terrain in the area to fell trees and extinguish smoldering stumps.
John Deegan, the taskforce leader with Division Charlie who was overseeing efforts on the spot fire, said it’s common for crews to fell trees that are still on fire. One such tree laying on the side of Mexia Road Tuesday was more than 2 1/2 feet wide.
“It’s not safe work by any means,” Deegan said. “The fallers take on a lot of risk.”
Firefighters took bulldozers into the southeastern edge of the fire near Canyon Creek Pass Tuesday and will be laying down hose lines to ensure containment in the area Wednesday.
Crews will continue to flow water on the fire’s edge north of Azalea and will begin mopping up spot fires in the interior.
On the southwestern edge of the fire, crews have secured fire lines and look to flow water in the area for the first time.
There’s still an active fire burning near Win Walker Reservoir.
“We expect that to just continue backing down to our lines and it should be nice and secure hopefully by the end of the (day) shift,” McCarty said. He expects the fire to burn up to fire lines, and then crews will work to bring hoses into the area.
The total cost of the fire is estimated at $5.7 million.