David Derrick of Coos Bay walks up a slope Monday near where the Humbug fire started. The 150-acre fire is contained.

Crews quell Applegate hills blaze

APPLEGATE — A hundred yards up a steep incline, at the top of Humbug Creek Road, Ken Chapman has an expansive view over what's left of Sunday's fire.

Chapman, who's made the Applegate Valley his home for the past 36 years, said he's spent a lot of time thinning the area around his house in anticipation of a fire just like this.

"Any place out here, you have to be prepared," he said Monday.

The 150-acre Humbug fire outside of Jacksonville started Sunday afternoon in a brush field behind a house about a mile from Applegate Elementary School.

Crews worked through the night to surround the fire and their efforts made a significant impact on the strength of the line, according to Brian Ballou, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry's Southwest Oregon District.

"Their main focus has been on improving the line," Ballou said of the nearly 80 firefighters from the Oregon Department of Forestry and Applegate Fire District 9. "We have a hose going up to the top and we're doing mop-up. There are little hot spots, but nothing actively burning."

Homes are not being evacuated at this point, but residents are being encouraged to close windows and garage doors and remove flammable material from the exterior of their houses in preparation for the potential that conditions could worsen.

Engines designed for battling structure fires have traveled from as far as Salem, and many of them are set up at the entrance to Chapman's property.

"The firefighters did a great job," Chapman said. "They were here really quick. The crew from Salem got here right away."

While the flames have been doused, firefighters' work is far from over. High temperatures and gusts of wind in the Humbug Creek canyon may cause the blaze to spark up again.

"We're still pretty concerned," Ballou said. "If we get a good sustained wind in the canyon some of those houses could be right in the line of fire."

Ballou added that the area around Chapman's house could burn intensely if the fire reignites, but that the property should be safe because of the ditches and space between grass and trees that Chapman created.

A helicopter continued to douse water from the Applegate River on places where embers started to spark Monday. The once green tree lines were covered with pink flame retardant left from the bombers that quickly rained on the perimeter at the onset of the fire.

Bob Ziegler and Jeff Vinyard enjoyed the shade underneath a small tree at the edge of the property where the burn began. Ziegler served as a lookout from 7:30 p.m. Sunday to 1:30 a.m. Monday and then returned to his chair six hours later.

"This is where it started," Ziegler said. "It's pretty far away from us right now."

Vinyard added that a bomber dropped flame retardant three times on Monday.

If all goes well, firefighters could be finished cleaning the area by the end of the weekend, according to Ballou. If embers prompt more flames, the burn would be more difficult to predict.

"They're still trying to work the fire line, and in some cases they are physically relocating it," Ballou said. "There is plenty of fuel left to burn."

An anonymous source told the Mail Tribune that the fire was started by two boys playing with fireworks. The Oregon Department of Forestry is investigating to determine the cause of the fire.

"That's the most dominant theory," Ballou said. "Usually fireworks' fires are easy to put out, but this one moved pretty quick. With wind it could easily double or triple in size."

On one of the trips on Sunday, a helicopter dumped a load of water on a cabin, owned by Chapman, near the summit.

"They put a drop right on it," Chapman said. "It was pretty nice."

Reach intern Bob Albrecht at 776-8791 or e-mail

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