Rain gives fire crews a short-term edge

Heavy showers Sunday morning tamped down wildfires burning across the region, providing more relief from a month of smoke.

"Medford got a lot today," said Misty Duncan, meterologist for the National Weather Service in Medford.

At the Medford airport, just over one-third of an inch fell as of 3 p.m. Sunday during the prior 24-hour period. Ashland received slightly more at 0.42 of an inch.

Fires burning in the region settled down, and fire crews have been making strides building containment lines over the past couple of weeks.

Air quality has definitely improved, falling into the "good" category according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

"For the short term, the smoke has been tamped down by the rain," said Paul Galloway, spokesman for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

But the 134,000-acre wildfire raging in the Yosemite Valley has sent a massive plume of smoke as far north as Montana. As of Sunday, the week-old fire is less than 10 percent contained and the smoke has blown through eastern Oregon.

"If we had a southeast wind right now, we'd be sucking a lot of smoke from that area," Galloway said.

The change in weather over the weekend has given hotshot crews a window of opportunity.

"One of the plus sides to the precipitation is that it allows us to put boots on the ground and see what the opportunities are," Galloway said.

A hotshot fire crew floated down the Rogue River over the weekend to help establish a stronger line on the northeast quadrant of the 24,125-acre Big Windy Complex, 25 miles northwest of Grants Pass.

A large amount of containment line needs to be built along the west side of the Big Windy complex, Galloway said.

The fire is 35 percent contained with full containment date forecast for Sept. 9.

The Douglas Complex, seven miles north of Glendale is now 87 percent contained and has burned through 48,643 acres. The expected date of containment is Sept. 1.

Six miles east of Tiller, the Whiskey Complex is 90 percent contained after consuming 17,891 acres. Containment is expected in the next few days.

Wetter conditions allow embers to smolder but don't provide an opportunity for crews to start burnout lines designed to keep the fire complexes from spreading.

With the forecast calling for temperatures in the mid to upper 80s this week, it should dry things out enough to start burning containment lines.

What fire crews don't want is temperatures soaring to triple digits along with a dry easterly wind, Gallloway said.

Usually, the forests are the driest and hottest this time of the year with little or no rain, he said.

If we continue to have dry periods followed by rain, it will help mop-up operations once the fires are contained, Galloway said.

Sunday's storm will clear out of the valley this morning, but the weather service predicts another chance of a storm system by Thursday or Friday.

Rainfall amounts were generally higher in the Medford area.

The Illinois Valley had 15/100 of an inch from Sunday's storm.

Sexton Summit north of Grants Pass received 29/100.

King Mountain to the east of Interstate 5 and north of Sexton Summit had a half-inch of rain.

Yreka received 16/100 of an inch from the storm.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

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