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Crews make solid progress on Oregon wildfires

by Virginia Barreda, Salem (Ore.) Statesman-Journal |

Fire crews continued to make strong gains containing several wildfires that ignited throughout Oregon over the past few weeks.

Despite the progress, acrid smoke from the Milepost 97 and East Evans wildfires is still affecting the southwestern parts of the state. 

The public should have "generally good air quality along with patches of hazy skies" through Sunday and into the week, according to the Oregon Smoke Blog. 

Local areas, including Azalea and possibly Canyonville, will experience smokey conditions from the Milepost 97 Fire. 

Here is an update on four wildfires:

>> East Evans Fire

Firefighters preserved containment lines overnight into Sunday morning despite windy conditions and will continue mopping up throughout the day. 

The newest wildfire, burning in Sam's Valley along East Evans Creek Road in Jackson County, remains at about 300 acres and prompted a round of evacuations Saturday northwest of Grants Pass, including a level 3 evacuation (meaning go now) to 11 homes. Eighteen others were placed on a level 1 evacuation level (get ready to go).

On Sunday, about 200 fire personnel will focus on falling trees, also known as snags, as they improve safety on the line. Crews also will monitor the area for potential spot fires that could spread in windy conditions, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest Oregon Fire District.

Officials said heat and the chance of thunderstorms on the east side of the county will pose a challenge for firefighters. 

The fire was first reported at 2 p.m. Friday and estimated at just five acres. Two hours later, the fire was estimated at 160 acres and then 300 acres by 5 p.m., leading to the evacuation orders, ODF officials said. 

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

>> Panther Gulch Fire 

Crews continue to mop up the 65-acre wildfire in southwest Oregon in the Applegate Valley. 

The last update for the Panther Gulch Fire, burning near the town of Williams and south of Grants Pass, came Thursday from the Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest Oregon District.

The fire reached 34 percent containment on Friday after crews placed a line around it. Officials said firefighters would continue searching for interior hot spots, with a goal of mopping up 75 feet into the fire from the perimeter.

The fire was reported Tuesday night and quickly grew, reaching 25 acres by the evening and 50 acres Wednesday morning. The cause of the fire is under investigation. 

There are no evacuations or road closures associated with the fire. 

>> Milepost 97 Fire 

Firefighters have reached the halfway point in extinguishing this 13,119-acre fire near Interstate 5 in southern Oregon.

Firefighters are mopping up and preventing hotspots from flaring and crossing the containment lines, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. 

A level 1 evacuation is still in effect for those in the area. 

Officials said the public may see areas of smoke rising from the interior of the fire where unburned pockets of fuel exist. 

The human-caused wildfire sparked July 24 one mile south of Canyonville and has cost $14.9 million.

>> McKay Butte Fire

The wildfire, burning in the Deschutes National Forest, about 35 miles south of Bend, reached 80 percent containment as of Thursday evening, according to the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center.

Crews are still mopping up to make sure the flames stay within the containment lines. The Central Oregon Type 3 Team transferred command of the fire back to the local fire districts as of Friday. 

Forest Service Road 9736 north of Paulina Creek and FSR 9735 are closed and will likely stay closed into next week. There are no trail closures associated with the fire. 

The level 1 evacuation notice for the McKay Crossing, Ogden and Prairie Campgrounds on the Deschutes National Forest was lifted at 11 a.m. July 30. 

The fire roared to life at 3 p.m. July 28 after it was reported by Lava Butte Lookout. The cause is still under investigation.