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At 13,000 acres, Rum Creek Fire now Oregon's top priority for containment

by Vickie Aldous, Medford (Ore.) Mail-Tribune |

Southwestern Oregon's Rum Creek Fire is the highest-priority fire in the state, and firefighters vowed to do everything in their power to stop the fire from sweeping through rural homes, Merlin and Grants Pass.

Wildland firefighters are working around the clock to keep the fire burning northwest of Merlin and Grants Pass as small as possible, and structural firefighters who protect homes and buildings are keeping the fire back, clearing away flammable fuels from properties, putting out spot fires and setting up sprinkler systems, fire managers said.

From Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning, the fire grew 1,220 acres to reach 12,916 acres. Firefighters were holding the fire back from Galice, and as of Wednesday morning the fire hadn’t spread past Indian Mary Park toward Merlin, according to InciWeb.

Overnight, the fire jumped a fire line on the east side of the fire near McKnabe Creek, burning several hundred acres. Resources were being shifted to the area to corral the fire and establish new control lines, fire managers said Wednesday morning.

As of Wednesday morning, the fire was already burning actively on the ridges. Firefighters were expecting potential spot fires, and have shifted resources to continue alternate contingency fire lines to the east, fire managers said Wednesday morning.

Firefighters conducted successful burnouts overnight on the south side of the fire to eliminate remaining fuels between control lines and the fire’s edge. Wednesday’s plans include working to secure the southeast corner of the fire and up toward the north. Hose lays and pumps have been set up along many control lines, including those constructed near Stratton Creek, fire managers said.

On the less-populated west side of the fire, firefighters secured more of the western edge through burnout operations and more fire line construction to tie in with existing lines, fire managers said.

Supplementing wildland firefighters, so many fire departments from across the state have converged on the fire that the area now has the equivalent of Oregon’s largest structural fire department, according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Nearly 2,000 people are working on the effort, including wildland and structural firefighters, managers and fire camp support crews, fire managers said.