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August 4, 2013
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Douglas Complex tops 30,000 acres; costs rising

GLENDALE — Battling the cluster of fires burning north of here already has cost more than $10 million, said Gov. John Kitzhaber, who assured residents Saturday they aren’t alone in the fight.

“This is not a Southern Oregon problem, this is an Oregon problem,” he said.

Kitzhaber, along with Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, visited Glendale High School, where officials have been directing the response to the 32,535-acre Douglas Complex.

The lightning-caused fires broke out nine days ago. With the fires 15 percent contained, firefighting costs total $10,039,682.

The Douglas Complex is the biggest of five groups of fires that are burning on 47,269 acres in Douglas and Josephine counties. A total of 5,295 people were assigned to the fires Saturday, including 2,337 on the Douglas Complex. Fire officials said Saturday they will set up another camp for firefighters in Riddle.

The state has spent approximately $18 million to $19 million battling wildland fires this year, Kitzhaber said

Last week, Kitzhaber called in the Oregon Army National Guard, assigning aircaft and also sending 125 soldiers to staff roadblocks.

Kitzhaber commended agencies on their quick response to the blaze. “I think we’ve got the resources and coordination we need,” he said.

Fires in both counties continue to expand. The Douglas Complex grew by 4,039 acres between Friday and Saturday, while the Whiskey Complex six miles east of Tiller grew by 654 acres to 4,839 acres. The Whiskey Complex is 20 percent contained.

Wyden and Merkley, at a press briefing on the high school football field, both talked about preventing catastrophic forest fires.

“We have to keep refocusing on forest health and prevention,” Merkley said.

Fire officials and other elected officials joined the governor and senators at the briefing.

Douglas County Commissioner Susan Morgan praised firefighters for keeping the fires out of Glendale.

“We wouldn’t be here today without your help,” she said.

Roseburg Forest Products President and CEO Allyn Ford congratulated crews on their “professionalism, experience, leadership and sense of urgency.”

“We are very much concerned about the timberlands. The timberlands are our future,” he said.

The Douglas Complex incident commander, Dennis Sifford, warned that expected hot weather in the coming week could cause problems for firefighters.

The senators flew over the fire in a helicopter after the presentation.

Meanwhile, Glendale residents soldiered on in the smoke, which has made the air, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, “very unhealthy” and even “hazardous” at times.

“I am very proud of this community. The neighbors have really pulled together,” Glendale Mayor Jim Standard said. “The fire is not stopping residents from living their lives.”

He commended firefighters.

“I believe everyone is doing everything they can. It’s just been phenomenal that they’re doing everything they’re doing every day. They’re doing a great job,” he said.

The Red Cross set up a shelter at the elementary school a week ago. The shelter’s manager, Kirsten Barnes, said seven to 10 people have been staying at the shelter each night. Lots of people come in throughout the day to get updates, she said. Approximately 155 people attended a meeting Friday night at the shelter to hear an update from officials.

Business has been good at Morningstar Coffee, said owner Misty Farnham, who said with a laugh that the coffee at the firefighters’ camp must be bad.

The three other groups of fires, all burning in Josephine County, are the 5,132-acre Big Windy Complex 25 miles northwest of Grants Pass, the 2,298-acre Brimstone Complex 10 miles northwest of Merlin and the 2,020-acre Labrador Complex 13 miles northwest of Cave Junction.

The Brimstone is 40 percent contained, while the other two complexes are zero percent contained.

• Reporter Betsy Swanback can be reached at 541-957-4208 or bswanback@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated Aug 4, 2013 12:36AM Published Aug 5, 2013 11:45AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.