Thunderstorms expected to hit Douglas County tonight and early Wednesday may cause more problems for firefighters already straining to contain wildfires burning on 24,466 acres.
The Douglas Complex burning near Glendale reached 21,400 acres Monday afternoon. The cluster of lightning-caused fires was 5 percent contained, fire officials said today.
East of Tiller, a second group of fires, the Whiskey Complex, has grown from 2,030 acres on Monday to 3,066 acres today, a fire spokesman, Tim Evans, said today.
Containment was estimated at 7 percent.
National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Weygand in Medford said thunderstorms forecast to move through the region probably will drop little rain.
“If there were no fires, then this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but with so many fires already, if we have additional starts, it could have a big impact,” he said.
Evans said fire officials were anticipating lightning strikes could start hitting dry forests around 10 p.m.
“We’re going to be pretty busy here,” he said.
Before then, the weather actually might be a slight ally to firefighters.
Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Dave Wells said the weather was expected to be cooler today and more humid around the Douglas Complex.
Resources on the Douglas Complex fires included 1,260 people, 75 engines, eight bulldozers, 26 water tenders and 11 helicopters.
Evans said 774 firefighters are working the Whiskey Complex fires, which are burning six miles east of Tiller. More crews are on their way, anticipating lightning strikes.
Fires in both complexes were started by lightning Friday.
Gov. John Kitzhaber today declared a state of emergency for Douglas and Josephine counties.
“The fire near Glendale continues to burn, and the state fire marshal and the Department of Forestry are working closely with the local community to minimize threats to people and property,” Kitzhaber said in a written statement. “I have directed all available state resources to help contain the fire and ensure that nearby communities have every resource necessary to protect their citizens.”
So far, the Douglas Complex has forced the evacuation of 60 homes. Fires are threatening 400 more residences.
More than 500 people attended a meeting Monday evening at Glendale Elementary School to get an update on the fire.
Overnight, four people stayed at the school at a shelter set up by the Red Cross, the shelter’s manager, Kristen Barnes, said. The shelter has functioned more as a place for people to get updates than to stay, she said.
“We’re just trying to get as much information as we can to help people get on with their lives and move forward,” Barnes said.
Evans and Wells said this morning that evacuation areas and road closures remained the same as Monday. The only structures damaged by the fires so far are two commercial buildings in the Douglas Complex, Wells said.
Wells said smoke continues to filter through Glendale.
“The smoke is filling in the low lying valleys, which is hampering some operations, but is also a good thing because it is slowing the fire because there is not a lot of fresh air to burn into,” Wells said.
Trudy and Howell Estes, who were among the Glendale residents evacuated, said the town is filled with a mixture of smoke and fog.
“It’s very bad, very smoky and it is kind of moist,” Trudy Estes said.
Helicopter crews are tapping the Esteses four-acre pond for water.
Glendale resident Pat Wine was forced to evacuate Saturday but was allowed to return home Monday night. She was told to be on standby in case conditions worsen.
Wine said she could smell smoke around her house but is not worried.
“I feel safe,” she said. “I don’t think they would let us come back if they didn’t think it would be safe.”
Wells said the lack of fire growth on the Douglas Complex is a good sign.
“What that is showing is that there are a lot of people, more than 1,200, and lots of aircrafts working, and things are happening out there,” Wells said. “The preparations and building of fire lines is starting to pay off with better containment. Hopefully, we see that continue.”
Officials have confirmed three minor injuries on the two complexes.
“Firefighters are contending with hazards, like falling boulders and trees, and old mine shafts, which are affecting access into some of the fire area,” Johnson said. “Values at risk include homes, commercial timberland, and critical wildlife habitat.”
The two largest blazes in the Whiskey Complex, Whiskey and Big Brother, have reached a combined 2,491 acres, up from 2,030 acres yesterday. The Buckeye fire has grown from 349 acres to 554 acres. The Smith Ridge fire experienced minimal growth and is now at 23 acres.
•You can reach reporter Christina George at 541-957-4202 or at email@example.com.