Fire crews, weather make inroads against Big Windy Complex

The worst-case scenario for the Big Windy Complex fire may not come to pass, thanks to efforts by firefighters and a little assistance from Mother Nature.

The fire complex, which fire officials a month ago feared would consume up to 50,000 acres by fall, is now 55 percent contained at 24,137 acres.

Although officials stress the fire danger remains extreme with plenty of time ahead for flare-ups, they also say they are gaining on the fire.

"When that weather started changing, it really helped us out," said fire command center spokeswoman Mary Bell Lunsford. "We haven't had to do as much burning out as we had anticipated."

However, officials are not yet ready to talk about the total acres they anticipate will burn, preferring to see how things play out in the next few days.

They are shooting for containment on Sept. 7.

Shortly after the fire was sparked by lightning on July 26, fire officials, fearing the worst because of high temperatures and rugged terrain, called for using the Rogue River on the north and the Bear Camp Road to the south as fire lines.

The lines looped around an enormous tract of unburned land but were deemed the safest and surest points to stop the burn.

After days of triple digit temperatures in July, the region has been bathed in cooler weather, including rain last weekend and more showers predicted. The mercury in the burned area some 25 miles northwest of Grants Pass was in the upper 70s Thursday afternoon, Lunsford observed.

"We have a marine (air) push coming, so the humidity is a lot higher now," she said of the humidity which rose to 90 percent. "That helps the firefighters."

Containment lines have been completed on the fire's west flank. Reinforcement of those lines continue with firefighters mopping up 100 to 200 feet inside the fire line, Lunsford said.

However, citing the need to keep roads clear for fire equipment and related reforestation traffic, the U.S. Forest Service has decided to keep the Bear Camp and Burnt Ridge roads closed to the public until the end of September.

"We regret limiting public access to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the Rogue River," said deputy forest supervisor Tracy Tophooven in a prepared statement.

"However, we must keep public health and safety our priority during this very active fire season," she added. "Although the fire activity may be minimal after rain, there is still plenty of potential for active fire behavior as soon as temperatures rise and weather conditions change."

Bear Camp Road between Gold Beach and Galice is traditionally used as the main route during the summer by floaters returning to the Grants Pass area after a trip through the popular wild section of the lower Rogue. That return trip now must be taken via the coast, with the cost for shuttling rafters' vehicles to the Foster Bar takeout doubling from $100 to $200.

The river had been closed because of the fire but has since been reopened to folks from around the world who come to float it on raft, kayak or drift boats. The closure of the Rogue River Trail from Grave Creek to the Rogue River Ranch has also been lifted.

Meanwhile, flags have been lowered to half staff across the state for firefighter Oscar Montano-Garcia of Medford who collapsed Sunday while on a lunch break with other crew members fighting the Nabob fire, located in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest just across the California state line.

Emergency personnel administered CPR but were unable to revive Montano-Garcia, according to the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department.

The U.S. Fire Administration indicated on its website that Montano-Garcia was part of a pump operations crew. Various records indicate he was in his 50s.

Four Oregonian wildland firefighters have died this year while on the job.

Jesse Trader, a 19-year-old water truck driver from Albany, was killed Aug. 6 on the Big Windy Complex fire after his vehicle hit an embankment and overturned on Bear Camp Road. Kevin Hall, 59, of Ontario, died Aug. 10 after apparently suffering a medical issue while working on a fire line on the Grassy Mountain fire, about 60 miles southwest of Boise, Idaho. John Hammack, 58, of Madras, was killed Aug. 1 by a falling tree while removing hazardous trees in the path of a small wildfire in the remote Mount Washington Wilderness Area in the high Cascades

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or

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