To many cheers and whistles, fire bosses Monday evening told a community meeting of some 500 Ashland people at the Ashland Hills Hotel that the once-raging Klamathon fire is now 40 percent contained — and that the once-menaced Colestin Valley has been downgraded from “mandatory evacuation” to the “get ready” level.
Mount Ashland, up the road several miles from Colestin, was cut from Level 2 to Level 1, as was the Callahan’s Restaurant area and Hilt, California, signifying the turning of a big corner in the battle against the 35,000 acre blaze which started at noon Thursday in northern Siskiyou County, from as-yet-undetermined causes.
“I’m confident that if the winds tonight (Monday), continue out of the northwest, pushing lines to the southeast, and with backup from our air support then we will turn the corner,” said Southwest Oregon District Forester Dave Larson of the Oregon Department of Forestry, in an interview.
He told the crowd, “It’s been a pivotal day (Monday) because the fire lines are holding and the eastern border, Iron Gate and Copco Road, we now consider mostly contained. South of the Klamath River has moved from ordered evacuation to under warning.”
Officials of several agencies summed up the fire, expressed regret that the smoke was moving mostly toward Klamath Falls and even up to Spokane, then mingled with the audience, answering questions on a personal basis.
They rattled off stats of the huge fire — 575,000 gallons of retardant, 21 helicopters, 942,000 gallons of water dropped and a 747 jet and some DC-10s pressed into service.
On the minus side, they found a second body, apparently victim of a roof collapse in Hornbrook. Amid the fast-moving flames many horses and other animals were simply freed when owners cut fences for them, but they were rescued by the animal shelter in Yreka and returned. Loud cheers greeted this news.
ODF Incident Commander Bill Hunt said, in an interview, “I’m a glass half-empty kind of guy and today was important but it will take another couple days of improving lines to button this up. We have a lot of work to do … It’s going to be a long, hot summer.”
Ashland Mayor John Stromberg spoke of Nixle, a new emergency alert system that will text enrolees all new information of such public safety and school happenings by texting 888777 and posting your zip code. It’s where he found out about the fire meeting Monday evening, he said.
“In a way, this fire is a good thing, as it got us on our toes,” Stromberg said.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.