Grass fire near highway fills skies with smoke

A grass fire fueled by thick blackberries and fanned by Monday afternoon winds charred three acres along Highway 238 east of Jacksonville and halted Little League baseball nearby before it was contained.

Flames from the 6 p.m. fire shot skyward as the fire burned within an area thick with stumps, brambles and piles of garbage as players and spectators at the adjacent Medford National Little League fields stood in awe.

"The flames were like a house story and a half high," said Tara Holmes from inside the little league's Snack Shack. "People just stopped and watched as the ash rained.

"I was thinking, if it starts rolling, we'll start running," Holmes said.

Play resumed a short time later, but games at two diamonds closest to the fire suspended play, Holmes said.

Firefighters aggressively attacked the flames and were able to build a containment line around the fire by shortly after 6:30 p.m., said Battalion Chief Rod Edwards from Jackson County Fire District No. 3.

"We don't know how it started, but we got a line around it and that made us feel a lot better," Edwards said.

An Oregon Department of Forestry bulldozer was called in to plow over stumps and help extinguish spot fires among piles of garbage and blackberries.

At times winds blew thick smoke at the ball fields, Edwards said. Flames ventured to within 10 feet of Highway 238, but it did not appear to ignite at the roadway, Edwards said.

Fire crews from Medford and Jacksonville also helped quell the fire, which was what Edwards called the first significant fire of the 2008 wildlands fire-fighting season.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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