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Friday, February 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Firefighters make slow progress against Oregon’s big blazes

A pair of cyclists pedal down dusty Cantrell Road against the backdrop of a smoky sunset, west of Eugene, Ore., Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (Brian Davies / Associated Press)
A pair of cyclists pedal down dusty Cantrell Road against the backdrop of a smoky sunset, west of Eugene, Ore., Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (Brian Davies / Associated Press)

BROOKINGS, Ore. – Firefighters in southern Oregon on Tuesday gained a toehold on a fire burning near the coastal town of Brookings but new evacuations were ordered after a flare-up on a different complex of lightning-caused fires in a remote area near the California border.

Authorities allowed some residents back into their homes near Brookings but several thousand more remain evacuated. The 184-square-mile fire is now 5 percent contained with a full containment date of mid-October.

The blaze began from a lightning strike on July 12 but grew rapidly last week, at one point forcing about 4,500 people from their homes. Fire crews are bracing for more difficult conditions later this week, with very low humidity and triple-digit temperatures forecast. Winds on the fire have also been gusty and erratic.

“Typically this time of year we’d be at least 30 or 40 percent humidity and we may get to single digits later this week. That is very, very dry,” said Terry Krasko, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

To the west of that blaze – and also in southern Oregon – another complex of fires has been burning since a lightning storm on Aug. 12. The 17-square mile fire is burning in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest near and along the Oregon-California border.

Many of the smaller fires have been put out, but several of the blazes have merged into three main areas of fire activity, said Brenda Bowen, a spokeswoman for the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team

Authorities on Tuesday afternoon ordered mandatory evacuations in the rural community of Joe Bar, right along the Oregon-California border, as one of those active areas crept to within a half-mile of the outpost. About six homes are affected, Bowen said.

In central Oregon, a 33-square-mile wildfire west of Sisters remains about one-third contained.

Fire crews have been effective at creating dirt lines and using naturally occurring areas of lava rock to keep it in check, said Stacy Lacey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service. No mandatory evacuations are in effect, she said.

“The warmer weather the last few days has definitely increased the fire activity on the lines, but we were prepared for it,” she said.

Hot and extremely dry weather will pose challenges across the state later this week.

Nearly two dozen fires are burning in Oregon and air quality in much of the western part of the state – including in Portland – has been poor because of wildfire smoke.

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