GLENDALE — The growing Douglas Complex remained the top-priority fire in the nation today, though officials said firefighters are making progress containing the cluster of fires burning north of this south Douglas County town.
Three hundred firefighters, including three hotshot crews, have been reassigned to the Douglas Complex, swelling personnel to 2,652.
The lightning-caused Douglas Complex burned on 35,633 acres north of Glendale this morning, 3,000 acres more than Saturday. The Whiskey Complex east of Tiller mushroomed from 4,896 to 7,368 acres, forcing firefighters to retreat and reform their fire line farther east.
Fire officials said some of the growth on both blazes was due to firefighters creating perimeters at a distance far enough from the fire line that they believe they can contain them.
Crews at the Douglas Complex have increased containment slightly to 16 percent, up from 15 percent Saturday. Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Joe Touchstone said this morning much of the fire’s continued growth is a result of firefighters’ efforts to control where the fire is going and where it will stop. As crews continue to build a line around the fire, they have back burned some areas to eliminate fuels the fire could use to jump the line.
Touchstone said steep, rugged terrain and few roads have slowed firefighters as they work to contain the fire.
“Sixteen percent on a fire this big is really good progress. It’s not the progress we would like, but given the terrain we’re facing, 16 percent is really good,” he said.
Though low wind and high humidity overnight helped slow fire growth, fire officials expressed concern that favorable weather might not last. The National Weather Service predicts high heat and dry air will return today, and the region could be in for more lightning storms by Thursday.
“We’re enjoying the lull. They’re getting a ton of work done while we wait. We’re bracing because anything could happen at any point,” Touchstone said.
Ninety-nine engines, 27 bulldozers, 33 water tenders and 17 helicopters are assigned to the complex.
Fifty homes have been evacuated in Douglas and Josephine counties since the fire began and 420 homes remain threatened. Douglas County residents whose homes were threatened by the fires were allowed to return home last week, while evacuations remain in effect today on Poorman Creek, Lower Grave Creek, Grave Creek and Lower Wolf Creek roads in Josephine County.
The American Red Cross continued to offer food and shelter at Glendale Elementary School today, reversing a decision made Sunday to close up shop.
Touchstone said many residents of threatened homes were traveling to the school for meals and returning home to watch and wait.
The Whiskey Complex six miles east of Tiller was burning on 7,368 acres this morning, up significantly from 4,896 acres Saturday, and was 25 percent contained.
Firefighters were forced back from the line they hoped to hold on the east side of the fire and have formed a new defensive line at Forest Service Road 2925.
Fire spokesman Tom Berglund said fire officials believe the road creates a barrier that will be easier to defend.
“The new line is safer for the firefighters,” Berglund said.
Two of the four fires that make up the complex — Whiskey and Big Brother — have merged into a single 5,689-acre fire. The Buckeye Fire continues to burn on 1,652 acres and is 40 percent contained. The 27-acre Smith Ridge Fire has been controlled. Smaller spot fires that erupted overnight were extinguished by night crews, Berglund said.
Today, 982 firefighters battled the Whiskey Complex with the aid of nine helicopters.
Eight residences and five outbuildings are threatened by the fire and five homes have been evacuated.
Smaller fires continued to burn on Southwest Oregon forestland today. The Labrador Fire 13 miles northwest of Cave Junction was burning on 2,020 acres today.
The Brimstone Fire seven miles northwest of Merlin was 80 percent contained at 2,372 acres this morning. The Big Windy Complex of three fires was burning on 9,192 acres 25 miles northwest of Grants Pass this morning.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or email@example.com.