An air tanker drops fire retardant on a fire on Old Stage Road near Galls Creek Wednesday.

Air attack

Fire crews attacked a 10-acre forest fire from the air Wednesday afternoon after it briefly threatened homes along Old Stage Road near Gold Hill.

The blaze originated along a fence near the intersection of Old Stage and Galls Creek roads just south of Interstate 5.

The fire moved quickly through waist-high dry grass into a forested ridge, sending a dense wall of smoke high into the air.

Neighbors took to their yards to hose down the grass near their homes for fear that they would be consumed.

Bill Gray noticed his neighbor's horses had become frightened by the smoke and flames. He and his 14-year-old grandson Steven Joseph were able to calm the animals and coax them into a barn.

"They did really well for young horses," Gray said. "That smoke was pretty thick around them."

Stiff wind gusts pushed the fire up the ridge and caused two smaller spot fires in nearby patches of grass.

"This was the perfect example of how nice it is to have a retardant bomber close at hand," Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Brian Ballou said.

The bomber responded quickly from the Medford airport to douse the top of the ridge. It was soon joined by a bomber out of Redmond. The air attack was supplemented by two helicopters that made steady water runs throughout the afternoon.

By around 5:30 p.m. crews had the blaze mostly under control.

Jackson County Fire District 3 deputy fire marshal Don Hickman said high humidity helped slow the blaze despite steady wind gusts and the 95-degree temperature.

"Nature helped and hurt us today," Hickman said. "But that 28-percent humidity was nice."

Meanwhile, a smaller blaze four miles southeast along Old Stage Road burned in dry grass. It was doused quickly before moving into nearby oak trees, Ballou said.

"It never developed the intensity of the one to the north," he added.

The causes of both fires remain under investigation.

ODF and District 3 were assisted by Rogue River Fire and officials from the Oregon Fire Marshal's office.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail

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