A dry cold front with strong western winds is expected to move into Southern Oregon Friday evening, which could be problematic for firefighters battling wildfires in the region.
According to National Weather Service meteorologist Brad Schaaf, the cold front is expected to move in from the Pacific Ocean late Friday, creating a change in weather patterns.
Schaaf said the cold front will break through the high pressure that’s remained over the region for “quite some time,” bringing in “less hot temperatures and gustier winds,” which could help alleviate the poor air quality but spark challenges for firefighters.
“These cold fronts bring in lower pressure, which can help push out smoke and give us clearer air, but they can be problematic for wildfires in a few ways,” he said.
Schaaf said the westerly winds could cause embers to jump or drift over fire contingency lines, increasing the risk of spot fires.
“We’re always worried when it becomes breezy and gusty in the forecast, and this is definitely coming,” he said. “But we want to emphasize that we are working with firefighters to take every precaution necessary.”
Schaaf said meteorologists are on the scene at some of the wildfires, so they are in constant communication with fire crews. He said the cold front is expected to “linger for a day or two,” after it moves in Friday evening, creating windy conditions through the day Saturday.
“But things should be back to normal Sunday,” he said.
Friday-morning fire updates discussed potential impacts from the incoming cold front.
Miles/Columbus/Snow Shoe/Round Top fires
According to an Oregon Department of Forestry update on the Miles fire, the change in weather may cause the fire to grow, which will test fire perimeters.
“Changing fire weather will elevate fire behavior, keeping firefighters on alert for potential rapidly changing situations on the fires,” the release said.
The Miles fire, the largest of the grouped Miles, Columbus, Snow Shoe and Round Top fires, has reached 27,039 acres. The fire could see growth, “single tree and group tree torching” and short- and long-range spotting Friday due to the winds, the release said.
On the southwest side of the Miles fire near the Alco Rock area, crews were scheduled to mop up firelines and look for places to construct directed fire lines. South of Elk Creek Road, crews were scheduled to continue extending hoselays and improving containment lines.
Crews Friday were scheduled to continue mop-up operations on the Snow Shoe, Round Top and Columbus fires.
Together, the fours fires have burned 40,202 acres.
A community meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Prospect Community Center, 305 Red Blanket Road, Prospect. The meeting will give an update on the Miles fire, fire operations, weather and smoke.
Taylor Creek and Klondike fires
The cold front is expected to cause the Taylor Creek and Klondike fires to grow, according to a Friday morning update.
“The smoke cap has been ready to come off for days now, and it’s going to create some change and inevitable fire activity,” said Kale Casey, an information officer with Pacific Northwest Team 2.
The Taylor Creek fire, burning west of Grants Pass and Merlin, has grown to 43,388 acres and is 45 percent contained as of Friday’s release.
The Klondike fire, burning in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness northwest of Selma, has grown to 38,382 acres and is 14 percent contained.
Incoming western winds are expected to test fire lines on the north side of both fires. Smoke columns will rise as the fires grow.
Casey said the recent smoke has allowed crews to prepare in anticipation of the cold front.
“As horrible as the smoke is for people living in the area, it has been keeping fire behavior really subdued and let us do a ton of work,” he said. “We’ve been anticipating this weather change and new critical fire condition for days.”
Casey said adding contingency lines, structure protection and fire buffers has been a high priority near Selma, Grants Pass, Merlin, Wonder and everything east and south of the Klondike and Taylor Creek fires.
“We’re very aware of what the wind does, and all you need is the alignment of wind, slope and fuel to get these fires moving,” he said. “But we’re doing everything we can to be prepared for growth and protect nearby towns.
A community meeting for updates on the fires is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at the Agness Community Library, 3905 Cougar Lane, Agness.
Additional crews are arriving at the Natchez fire in anticipation of spot fires from the incoming cold front. The fire is burning 15 miles southeast of Cave Junction.
According to a Friday morning update, a contingency line is ready for potential spot fires south of the South Fork Indian Creek. Firefighters Friday planned to secure the direct line east of Mud Lake and pursue the construction of more lines.
On Thursday, 16 Australian firefighters arrived at Happy Camp to provide support as crew bosses, task force leaders, division supervisors and helicopter crew members, according to the release. The combined crews planned to continue to secure the fire edge on the southeast portion of the fire and work on clearing Grayback Road Friday.
The cold front isn’t expected to strongly impact the Hendrix fire, which has seen no growth in multiple days. Burning nine miles southwest of Ashland, the fire remained at 1,082 acres and is 72 percent contained.
The cold front is expected to help clear out smoke and improve air quality around the fire.
A community meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at the Hendrix fire Incident Command Post, at the intersection of Highway 238 and Hamilton Road in Ruch. The meeting will be followed by a short tour of the fire camp and will be streamed on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HendrixFire2018/.
Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Morgan Theophil at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4485. Follow her on Twitter @morgan_theophil.