Medford fire chars 600 acres

    Firefighters battle blazes off Lone Pine Road as the Deer Ridge fire on Roxy Ann Peak burns about 600 acres Monday in east Medford. - Jamie Lusch

    Just as Gov. Ted Kulongoski was ordering state resources to help bring an Ashland fire under control, a fire began sweeping up East Medford's Roxy Ann Peak and causing evacuations, power outages, road closures and snarled traffic.

    The wind-swept Deer Ridge fire in Medford had mushroomed to 600 acres by Monday night. Retardant-laden air tankers and helicopters swinging buckets of water managed to spare residential areas in the path of the fire. By 9 p.m. Monday, most of the evacuations of more than 100 households had been lifted. There were no known injuries, and the fire touched no homes, Medford fire officials said.

    Winds had died down considerably by Monday night, and bulldozers were moving in for an overnight shift to try to establish stronger fire lines to try to contain the blaze, said Brian Ballou, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

    "The wind has died down, and that's to our advantage," Ballou said.

    Residents in Vista Point reported the fire just before 2:30 p.m. Monday in a grassy areanear their houses. Flames whipped by 20-to-30-mph winds leaped to heights of 30 to 40 feetand came as close as 100 feet from half a dozenhomes, said Medford Fire Chief David Bierwiler.

    Some of the fire crews, air tankers and helicopters that were dispatched to the 100-acre Ashland fire Monday morning quickly were diverted to the fast-moving Medford fire by the afternoon. A few hours after ordering help for the Ashland fire, the governor dittoed the order for state resources for the large fire on Roxy Ann.

    "Ironically, having a four-alarm fire in Ashland helped us enormously," Bierwiler said. Crews already were deployed and could swiftly respond to the Medford fire, he said.

    Five fire engines based in Medford, Ashland, Rogue River and Josephine County were among several that rolled north on Interstate 5 from Ashland toward Roxy Ann. As the five vehicles barreled down the Phoenix exit toward North Phoenix Road, the sirens began screaming.

    In all, five air tankers, five helicopters, five bulldozers and crews from a variety of Jackson and Josephine county agencies tackled the blaze.

    Around Roxy Ann, air tankers rumbled low in the sky, dropping red flame retardant on the hillside in between residences. Helicopters swung buckets of water that had been dipped from ponds in the area.

    Residents were evacuated on the east side of North Foothill between East McAndrews Road and Corey Road; Dry Creek Road and North Roxy Drive; Devils Garden Road and Dodson Drive; the Manzanita Heights area, Normil Terrace and Devonshire Place. All of the evacuations except Devonshire Place had been lifted as of 9 p.m., said Jackson County sheriff's Sgt. Marty Clark.

    "I had been watching the Ashland fire on the news, and my brother-in-law called and said there was a fire here," said Mary Maudlin, who lives on Cadet Drive off Normil Terrace. "I said, 'No, the fire is in Ashland.' He said, 'No, no, it's right in your backyard.' "

    Maudlin, who had prepared some files and medications to take with her in case she had to be evacuated, watched the blaze jump through brush and send billows of dark smoke into the sky.

    Adding to the chaos, traffic signals in Phoenix, east Medford, south Medford, west Medford, Ruch, Jacksonville, Shady Cove and Eagle Point went dark just before 3 p.m. Monday after smoke from the fire on Roxy Ann interfered with Pacific Power electrical conductors.

    Traffic was snarled passing through intersections. Some drivers pulled over to the side of roads to watch the billowing plume of smoke on what is one of Medford's most prominent landmarks.

    About 25,000 customers were without electricity between about 3 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. while power crews activated an alternate transmission line, said Pacific Power spokesman Monte Mendenhall.

    Blockades were set up at several intersections, including East McAndrews Road at Springbrook Road and North Foothill Road at every intersection between Hillcrest Drive and Corey Road. Evacuated residents who were returning home and emergency crews could use the roads, but general traffic wasn't allowed through as of 10 p.m. Monday, Clark said.

    A red-flag warning for hot temperatures, dry conditions and high winds remains in effect through today, threatening to give the fire more momentum, Ballou said.

    Reach Paris Achen at 776-4459 or

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