It's been quiet ... too quiet?

The lion's share of summer might be over with no major wildfire having erupted in Jackson or Josephine counties, but Brian Ballou cautions that the region is not out of the woods yet.

After all, the spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry's district office in Central Point has seen it all before.

"There are a lot of parallels to 1987 — things were relatively quiet, then everything just cut loose," recalled Ballou, who helped battle those blazes. "We had that huge lightning storm and suddenly we had wildfires everywhere."

The series of dry lightning storms that hit on the last weekend of August 1987 triggered the Silver complex fires ,which burned more than 100,000 acres that year. As in 1987, the local woods are as explosive as kindling, Ballou observed.

"The wildland fuels are bone dry," he said. "We've had a prolonged series of weeks with no significant rainfall and high temperatures. There are lots of possibilities for bad things."

A 48-acre fire which exploded Monday afternoon a mile west of O'Brien in the southern Illinois Valley illustrated the explosive potential, he said.

Firefighters from State Forestry, the Rogue River-Siskyiou National Forest and local departments combined forces to stop the blaze, which destroyed a garage, pump house and an outbuilding. A dog was also killed.

Cause of the fire remains under investigation.

"But we have to give a hats-off to people who live out in the wildlands areas," he said, noting rural landowners regularly contact the agency when they have any questions concerning fire safety.

"The potential for fires is definitely on their minds now," he said.

Meanwhile, fire crews on Monday have built a fire line around nearly half of the 802-acre Red Rock Fire burning in the Marble Mountain Wilderness south of Happy Camp in northern California, according to a U.S. Forest Service spokesman. More than 360 firefighters, backed by five heavy-lift capacity helicopters carrying water from nearby lakes, are battling the blaze, he said.

As a result of the fire, trails and roads in the immediate area have been closed until the fire is doused.

The 165-acre Harrington Fire continues to burn in the Siskiyou Wilderness just southwest of Happy Camp. That fires is 30 percent contained by fire lines.

Smoke from the fires, both burning in the Klamath National Forest, has been visible in the Rogue Valley this week.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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