Betsy Swanback

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July 31, 2013
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Firefighters battle spreading Southern Oregon blazes

GLENDALE — Glendale resident Brandi Wytcherley was a little lightheaded Tuesday afternoon while walking through her backyard and seeing flames.

Smoke hung thick in the air as Wytcherley, 34, followed firefighters to her property lined with fir trees and surrounded by fire.

“We’re trying to save our area, holding everything down and fighting what we can,” she said.

Wytcherley and her husband, Chris Wytcherley, are among the Southern Oregon residents directly affected by the 35,140 acres now on fire in Douglas and Josephine counties.

The largest cluster of fires, the Douglas Complex, was burning 25,396 acres today seven miles north of Glendale.

The second largest, the Whiskey Complex, covered 3,080 acres six miles east of Tiller.

The other complexes are the 2,914-acre Big Windy 25 miles northwest of Grants Pass, the 2,000-acre Brimstone 10 miles northwest of Merlin and the 1,750-acre Labrador 13 miles northwest of Cave Junction.

The Douglas Complex was rated by fire officials as the highest-priority fire in the nation today. The fire was 5 percent contained. Some 1,387 people were on the fire.

“I just wish they would get this taken care of. I imagine it will be a while though,” Glendale Mayor Jim Standard said today. “I just want everybody to be safe. Check on your neighbors, make sure they’re not hurt or in distress.”

No more evacuations were ordered Tuesday. The fires, sparked by lightning Friday, had earlier forced the evacuation of 60 homes. Another 45 households have been warned to be prepared to leave.

The smoke continues to make the air in Glendale “hazardous” to breathe, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Air quality in the Grants Pass and Medford areas is “very unhealthy.” The air quality over central Douglas County, including Roseburg, remains good.

Health officials warned people in smoky areas to be careful.

“People have to make that decision for themselves, but people should avoid high concentrations of smoke by staying indoors, using a filter and avoiding outdoor strenuous activity,” said Byron Peterson, DEQ natural resources specialist in Medford.

Thunderstorms expected to move in late Tuesday didn’t materialize. National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Sandler in Medford said today thunderstorms are expected over Diamond and Crater lakes this evening, but they should miss areas where fires are burning.

He said southward winds will likely push the smoke from the fires south into Josephine County.

Sandler said the area will enter a slow cooling period through the weekend, but it will warm up into the low 90s again next week.

Oregon Department of Forestry public information officer Dave Wells said firefighters are working on surrounding the fire.

“We’ve had some good days to fight fire with,” he said. “Relatively cool for the last of July, and humidity has been up from where it could be. It’s good besides the intense smoke over most of the fire.”

He said the fire is likely to continue growing, but firefighters hope to keep the growth to a minimum.

No more buildings were burned in the blaze Tuesday. One outbuilding and two railroad trestles have burned.

He said the firefighters are still coming primarily from Oregon and Washington, though supervisors have come from as far as the Midwest.

Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a state of emergency Tuesday in Douglas and Josephine counties. The Oregon Army National Guard joined the fight today.

On the Whiskey Complex, 814 people were assigned to the fires, which also were started Friday by lightning. The fires are 10 percent contained. Five homes in Ash Valley have been evacuated. Evacuations were also ordered around South Umpqua Falls.

Four fires — Smith Ridge, Buckeye, Whiskey and Big Brother — make up the complex.

Fire officials reported making progress in establishing containment lines.

The Wytcherleys and their three children soaked the ground around their home with well water as fire burned trees and brush within sight of their house.

The family took turns watching the fire Sunday night before crews arrived Monday morning.

“Before they got here it was kind of nerve-racking,” Brandi Wytcherley said.

The family was evacuated Saturday, but Chris Wytcherley returned a few hours later.

Brandi Wytcherley said they have their important belongings packed, but plan on staying in their home as long as possible.

Glendale resident Gayle Barr, 69, traveled to town Tuesday with her husband, Roy Barr, to check updates posted by fire officials.

“We’re just kind of keeping an eye on it, is all,” she said. Their home is not threatened, but she said she was worried about people in the Wolf Creek area.

She praised the firefighters, saying they are doing the best they can and are keeping the public informed.

Signs thanking firefighters lined the cyclone fence around the Glendale High School football field, where hundreds of tents housing firefighters were pitched.

• You can reach reporter Betsy Swanback at 541-957-4208 or by email at

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The News-Review Updated Jul 31, 2013 12:59PM Published Sep 9, 2013 06:39PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.