A helicopter gathers water from the Rogue River while fighting the Nugget Fire near Gold Hill on Saturday. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]

Getting the upper hand

With the exception of a new fire outside Grants Pass Saturday afternoon, crews got a break in new fires in Southern Oregon thanks to a lull in the unceasing thunderstorms that plagued already-burning forests in Southern Oregon throughout the week.

An upslope grass fire in the 9200 block of Applegate Road in Grants Pass was snuffed out within hours Saturday afternoon, according to Oregon Department of Forestry reports.

The fire grew to 1-1/2 acres Saturday, but never threatened any structures. Within two hours of the initial 1:39 p.m. report, the fire was fully lined, and by 6 p.m. crews had shifted focus to mop-up. No homes were threatened in the fire.

Cool temperatures are in the immediate forecast, and no lightning strikes were reported in Jackson County Friday night into Saturday, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Michelle Cohen. She said a "pretty weak" cold front is coming into the area, with Medford temperatures forecast to be in the mid-80s Sunday.

"It'll probably be the coldest high we've had in a while," Cohen said. The last time the county saw a high in the 80s was was July 20.

"If we only get to 86, that'll be the coldest day since June," Cohen said, adding that by Monday temperatures will begin rising again, reaching the upper 90s by Thursday.

Unencumbered by new starts in the area, crews of 60-plus personnel continued work to secure a perimeter covered in snags and steep terrain at the Nugget fire outside Gold Hill, which remains estimated at 5 to 10 acres. No structures are threatened.

Three helicopters focused water drops on the interior of the burn.

On the Gold Hill bike path Saturday afternoon, a helicopter drop on the Rogue River 15 yards away from Becky Frank caused her to stop in equal parts awe and concern for her two school-age sons on a bike ride with their dog.

Frank, who lives between Gold Hill and Rogue River, said it wasn't the first time she'd seen a water drop, but "not that close" before.

Winds pushed the basket away from the water and onto a man-made concrete platform in the river. Frank said she wasn't certain if it would head back to the bike path. One of her sons, however, was less concerned.

"Mom, that's why we got co-pilots," her son said before riding down the path.

Though the Nugget fire continued to let off smoke, air quality appeared clear in Gold Hill for bike rides and rafters Saturday. Throughout Jackson County, Department of Environmental Quality readings showed air quality levels at "moderate."

As helicopters filled buckets along the Rogue River near Gold Hill to fight the Nugget fire Saturday, water trucks and a "Super Scooper" plane drew from Lost Creek Lake.

The Flounce fire near Lost Creek Lake held steady Saturday at 690 acres, but the fire was 45 percent contained as of Saturday, which Oregon Department of Forestry spokeswoman Melissa Cano attributed to the efforts of 759 personnel who weren't distracted by new starts overnight.

Instead, crews spent the night strengthening lines and mopping up to avoid further growth. Personnel and equipment consisted of 32 hand crews, nine helicopters, 24 engines, 21 water tenders and five bulldozers.

The Double Day fire outside Butte Falls that started Thursday had been completely snuffed out Friday night, and crews were mopping up the scene, Cano said.

The Grizzly Peak fire, a combination of five small fires in the area, was nearly fully contained Saturday morning. The trail system remained closed Saturday as aircraft targeted lingering hot spots.

Areas in other parts of the state were struck harder by wildfire Saturday. The Horseshoe Bend campground in Douglas County was closed on a "level 3" evacuation level meaning "leave immediately."

Residents in rural Douglas County living on Moore Hill Lane to the community of Dry Creek along Highway 138 were placed on "level 2" evacuation notice Saturday, meaning "prepare to leave at a moment's notice."

Two fires near Crater Lake National Park were holding steady, according to U.S. Forest Service reports.

The Blanket Creek fire outside Prospect remained steady at 4,820 acres, 41 percent contained, though areas in the west portion of the fire were in mop-up status and a hand line in the Lick Creek drainage area at the northwestern line continued to hold. The fire continues to burn slowly on the eastern portion of Crater Lake National Park, according to national forest reports. Fighting the blaze are 741 personnel, including 14 fire crews, 23 fire engines, seven helicopters and four bulldozers.

The Spruce Lake fire west of the park stood at 4,885 acres and was 35 percent contained, helped by favorable weather conditions and sparser territory on the northeast side of the growth. At the south, crews focused Saturday on hot spots while a southwest line continued to hold.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown authorized help from the National Guard for the fires starting Monday, in the form of 125 troops, according to the Associated Press. In a statement Saturday, Brown said a combination of wildfires and preparation for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse requires "more boots on the ground."

Brown has also requested that an Oregon Army National Guard medical evacuation helicopter unit support the Oregon Department of Forestry for wildfires in southwestern Oregon beginning Wednesday.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

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