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Firefighters make progress on Milepost 97 Fire, but containment remains low

TRI CITY — The Milepost 97 Fire burning south of Canyonville has grown to 12,336 acres as of Tuesday morning.

The fire, which began Wednesday, grew more than 5,000 acres over the weekend. Since Sunday, the fire’s advance has slowed, adding about 1,300 acres.

The fire is the largest uncontained blaze in the conterminous United States and was at 15% containment Tuesday morning, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. The incident management team doesn’t have an estimate of when the fire will be contained.

Incident Commander Link Smith said Monday’s favorable weather, including cooler temperatures, cloud cover and higher humidity, allowed crews to make progress, establishing control lines in key areas.

He said efforts have been focused toward the south of the fire along the west side of Interstate 5 to prevent the spread toward towns such as Azalea and Glendale.

ODF spokesman Joe Touchstone said contained areas are primarily on the north end of the fire.

He added efforts to prevent the fire’s spread toward populated areas has limited crews’ ability to aggressively fight other areas of the fire.

“It is preventing us from being as direct to the fire as we want to be,” Touchstone said. Rough terrain and abundant fire fuels around I-5 continue to make firefighting difficult, he said.

Preventing the fire’s spread on the east side of I-5 remains a priority, Touchstone said. Firefighters continue to mop up spot fires east of the highway.

Crews are removing hazardous trees along the highway Tuesday. Motorists should expect slowdowns on both sides of the highway between mileposts 88 and 101, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Officials believe an illegal campfire started the fire. Kyle Reed, a spokesman with the Douglas Forest Protective Association, which is leading the investigation, said the individual or individuals responsible haven’t been identified. The cost to fight the fire so far is estimated at $5.1 million.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced funding support to help fire suppression efforts Monday afternoon.

Personnel at the fire Tuesday is 1,358 with more than 1,000 firefighters split into day and night shifts.

Resources include 51 hand crews, 41 engines, 47 dozers and 22 water tenders. Additionally, there are 13 helicopters and two single-engine air tankers in use.

Smith said aircrafts continue to effectively help firefighters gain better access. The air tankers dropped 26 loads of retardant on the fire Monday.

The number of structures threatened by the fire has remained the same since the weekend at 586.

On Monday, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office created an interactive map so residents can check evacuation zones. Large areas south of the fire on both sides of I-5 remain in evacuation zones. Residents in Azalea and Galesville have been in a Level 2 “Set” warning since Saturday, meaning people should be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. People as far south as Glendale are in a Level 1 “Be Ready” warning.

The evacuation notice for homes in the 100-300 block of Ritchie Road in Canyonville that were evacuated on Thursday was reduced from Level 3 “Go” to Level 2 Tuesday morning.

An air quality advisory for Josephine, Jackson, Klamath and southern Douglas counties remains in effect, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

On Tuesday morning, air quality was “unhealthy for sensitive groups” in Medford and “unhealthy” in Grants Pass, according to DEQ’s air quality index.

Nine firefighters have been injured so far, including a firefighter who was hit by rolling debris Monday. The firefighter has been released from Rogue Valley Medical Center.

Touchstone said while firefighting efforts remain challenging, there’s aren’t many fires drawing away resources elsewhere.

“We’re getting the resources we need because we’re not battling other fires for resources,” he said.

FALLING 'BEEHIND': Bee colony loss reaches highest point in 13 years

Dallas Amer cracked open a beehive and knew immediately that there was something wrong with the hive.

“This hive is queenless,” Amer said. “You can tell by the roar. See those queen cells? They’re just recently out of their queen. You still have brood in the frames.”

It was 1971 when Amer, 14 at the time, started working for a first-generation Irish immigrant beekeeper in Southern California. He made a nickel per frame on a farm that had 9,000 frames spread out between about 1,800 beehives.

“It used to be, you had to give the bees room, and you had to make sure they had stores,” Amer said. “Now, you’re constantly checking the bees for viruses, for parasitic loads. The lifespan of your queens are not nearly as long as they used to be — the stressors on the bees are so much greater now.”

The numbers for the 2018-2019 winter have not been processed for each state yet, but the Bee Informed Partnership survey preliminary results estimate that bee colony loss is 37.7% nationwide, up from 30.8% the prior year and 28.8% from the 13-year average winter colony loss rate. This year’s estimate is the highest level of winter losses reported since the survey began in 2006-2007.

Ramesh Sagili, an associate professor in the horticulture department at Oregon State University, works specifically on bee health and nutrition. He started at the university shortly after commercial bee operations started reported significantly higher colony losses in 2006.

“At the time there was no real clue,” Sagili said. “People were thinking maybe there was a new virus or a bacteria that probably had taken over the colonies. But all of the research done over the last 13 years since then hasn’t shown there is one single factor that is responsible for colony declines.”

He attributed the loss to the use of pesticides and insecticides, the practice of monoculture in farming, moving the bees for pollination, urbanization, diseases and parasites like the varroa destructor.

In the 1980s, the varroa destructor from Southeast Asia started to spread around the world. Sagili said the department is working on several studies around the mite, but they still don’t have a solution to that particular problem.

“It’s stressing the bee, not just by feeding on the bee, but it also transmits at least six or seven different viruses,” Sagili said.

He said beekeepers have about four or five products to kill the mites, but some are toxic to the bees as well. He said he is also studying those products.

“We think there’s some degree of resistance, we’re trying to test,” Sagili said. “It’s still working, I’m not saying it’s not working. But that’s the challenge; any product that you bring, after a few years, there is a good chance that it might be not working because the mites can develop a resistance to those miticides.”

Amer said the mite has been his biggest issue since it arrived in the ‘80s. He compared it to giving smallpox to the Native Americans.

He said the more people learn about bees, the better. In the meantime, his frustration with the mites lies between the way the commercial operations treat bees, effectively creating better mites with a resistance to all of the pharmaceuticals and the backyard beekeepers who don’t know or intentionally don’t check or treat their bees for mites, which allows them to spread.

“You see those big commercial guys running 10 to 20,000 colonies — they don’t have time to treat each hive individually,” Amer said. “We’re not big enough to do that. We have to treat everyone individually. Then there are guys who just don’t care. They are here to make the money and they just don’t care. Those are mostly pollinators. They want to get through as many hives as they can in a day.”

Amer agreed that nutrition is key to bee health, and he tries to rotate his honey frames from farms that use pesticides to organic farms like one near Sutherlin that he calls “a little oasis.”

“Most farms, they would be just a moonscape between those rows,” Amer said. “You go out and look at the hazelnuts and stuff and it’s just a moonscape. They just mow and water and it comes back, so there’s constantly forage here for our bees.”

From 2017 to 2018, Oregon beekeepers had a winter loss of 24.8%, the 13th lowest out of 48 states, multi-state operations and the District of Columbia.

“I think Oregon is more diverse in terms of forage,” Sagili said. “At least Oregon has more diverse crops, but I think that is one reason why bees do a little bit better in Oregon.”

Most of the colonies in the U.S. are managed by multi-state operators. After that, California, North Dakota and Washington have the most bee colonies. Oregon has the 14th most beekeepers and the 14th most colonies per beekeepers, including multi-state operations.

“When it was me and the Irishman, we took care of bees by the frame. We took care of each colony as an individual, not an outfit. That’s the difference. If you can tend to each one of them individually, they will be healthy and the whole will be healthy.”

Urban Growth Boundary keeps Geneva Academy from building its new campus

Geneva Academy’s road to a permanent campus has been a long one — and they still have miles to go.

Since purchasing land on Northwest Troost Street in 2013 the Roseburg private Christian school has been at a standstill, waiting on a potential urban growth boundary swap plan that could finally green light construction after years of waiting.

Geneva Academy began operating out of the Baptist church on Northeast Vine Street in Roseburg in 2013 and has grown each year since then. It’s anticipating a total enrollment of 150 students this fall and needs more space to accommodate them, said Brian Turner, headmaster of Geneva Academy.

The trouble with the Troost Street property is that it’s part of the Charter Oaks neighborhood, which has been the center of controversy for more than 10 years over where the urban growth boundary should be.

The urban growth boundary dictates where a city can grow new development and construction projects, said Ricky Hoffman, associate city planner in Roseburg. The land outside the boundary is intended to remain rural and undeveloped.

“We have property that is out there. ... The city’s trying to figure out what they’re going to do about annexing that area into the urban growth boundary,” Turner said. “We still don’t know if we’ll be able to build there or not. That’s all just on hold for now.”

The city has been eyeing an urban growth boundary “swap” rather than extending the boundary because it would require fewer bureaucratic hurdles to complete. The idea involves swapping some undevelopable property inside the boundary with 169 acres in Charter Oaks. The swap would solve the issue and avoid having to justify an extension to the state, Hoffman said. The plan could mean additional housing units for Roseburg.

“We have a significant amount of land that is constrained by a hillside in the city or Roseburg’s urban growth boundary,” Hoffman said. “So, what that does is it gives the opportunity to the city to then say, ‘OK, where is a more economical and appropriate location for land to be considered inside the urban growth boundary?’ Because we are no longer expanding it, we’re just simply taking lands that are currently inside that are constrained and are moving them to a different part of our peripheral community.”

If the swap is approved and the Geneva Academy’s Troost Street property ends up inside the urban growth boundary, it would be able to apply for a building permit or conditional use permit.

Meanwhile, Charter Oaks residents have been vocal in resisting development in that area, Hoffman said. In 2008, residents shot down a plan to extend the boundary into Charter Oaks.

The urban boundary swap idea was presented to residents in November and April. There, residents cited potential traffic flow and urban-level development in the area as reasons they opposed the swap, Hoffman said.

The school signed a rental agreement with Hucrest Community Church to host kindergarten through second grade in their classrooms in the meantime.

“Even though we like to have small class sizes, we just need more space, physically need more space,” Turner said. “So, by moving some of our grades — kindergarten, first and second — over to Hucrest Community Church, that’s going to relieve some of our space issues and will enable us to have a daycare and prekindergarten.”

The school began discussions about the land for the new campus as well as a capital campaign in 2016 that stopped after the school heard about the urban growth boundary.

“We were complete novices in this whole process. We thought things would happen a lot faster than they have,” Turner said. “Now, we’re being very careful and guarded about discussing any timelines. There are so many things that are just outside our control.”

If Geneva Academy is unable to build on the site, Turner said the school would sell the property and look for other land to build a permanent campus on.

“Whatever we do, wherever we go, we want to be good neighbors. We would want people to be glad that we were going to be in the same area, community, neighborhood,” Turner said.