The Garner Complex burning in Jackson and Josephine counties experienced explosive growth Friday night and was listed at 6,382 acres Saturday, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Gov. Kate Brown has declared the Garner Complex a conflagration.
At least 393 structures were threatened by the Garner Complex as of Saturday morning, officials said.
The Garner Complex, which was listed at 1,130 acres Friday evening, is composed of several fires in Jackson and Josephine counties and is 8 percent contained, according to ODF.
The declaration by Brown cleared the way for the state fire marshal to mobilize firefighters and equipment to assist local resources battling the fire.
The State Fire Marshal’s Blue Incident Management Team, and four structural task forces from the Rogue Valley, Klamath, Lane and Linn counties arrived Saturday morning and began working to protect structures, according to ODF.
Two more structural task forces were to be mobilized Saturday evening, the agency reported.
The Taylor Creek fire more than quadrupled in size to at least 2,932 acres by Saturday afternoon, while the Grave Creek No. 3 fire made a “major run” to about 2,100 acres by Saturday morning, according to updates posted by ODF.
Level 3 “go now” evacuations are in place around both blazes on West Pickett Creek Road, located about 12 miles northwest of Grants Pass, and north of the intersection of Grave Creek Road and Ditch Creek Road. Level 2 evacuations have also been issued.
A Red Cross shelter has opened at Grants Pass High School for evacuees.
The complex includes 12 fires, though most are under control. The 500-acre Pleasant Creek fire has led to evacuations north of Wimer, while the Spencer fire was holding below 200 acres.
The lightning-caused fires were being fought by 1,355 people, including 45 handcrews backed by 33 engines, 11 dozers, 12 water tenders and 19 aircraft.
A joint information center was to be set up Saturday to answer questions about all of the fires in the surrounding areas, and a new Facebook page was expected to be created Saturday specifically for the Garner Complex fire, ODF reported.
Information about the southwest Oregon fires can also be found on the ODF Southwest Facebook page.
Friday night the Grave Creek No. 3 fire burned actively, and crews are continuing to put in contingency lines around the fire hoping to stop it, ODF reported.
The Spencer fire is holding in place, and crews have been working to secure the fire lines, officials noted. Mop-up has begun on the Pleasant Creek fire, which is holding within the control lines.
The Taylor fire, which was added to the complex Friday night, was much more problematic than expected, officials said.
“The Taylor fire ran like crazy all night long,” according to wildlands firefighter Karl Witz, who was quoted in an ODF press release Saturday. The fire continued to actively push to the south, more than quadrupling in size.
Saturday crews were expected to engage the fire where it was safe to do so, and aircraft were being used to try and slow the rapid spread, ODF said.
A fleet of 19 aircraft were in the air Saturday, with eight more on order, ODF said.
The Garner Complex and other blazes burning in the region have caused air quality levels to plummet.
Air quality was listed Saturday as unhealthy in Medford, Ashland, Grants Pass, Cave Junction and down into Northern California, with little improvement expected until late in the day Sunday, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
“Unfavorable weather conditions for smoke movement and lift will continue through most of the weekend,” according to Oregon Smoke Information. “The Interstate 5 corridor between Medford and Yreka, California, will especially be impacted by unhealthy conditions through at least midday Sunday.
“There could a period (Saturday night) when ‘very unhealthy’ conditions develop from Ashland to Yreka,” officials said.
In other fire news:
The Hendrix fire, burning 9 miles southwest of Ashland, was listed Saturday afternoon at 947 acres (based on infrared flight), with 15 percent containment.
The lightning-caused fire, burning since July 17, was staffed with 467 personnel, including four hot shot crews, 10 hand crews, five helicopters, 16 engines, 10 dozers and seven water tenders.
The Natchez fire, burning 15 miles southeast of Cave Junction, was listed Saturday at 1,372 acres, an increase of 600 acres since Friday.
Crews were making progress establishing indirect lines using heavy equipment and hand crews, according to Inciweb. The terrain is rugged and crews were working to widen existing roads to use as containment lines.
The Klondike fire, burning 9 miles northwest of Selma, was listed Saturday at 2,169 acres, an increase of nearly 1,500 acres since Friday.
The Granite fire, burning 9 miles northwest of Selma, was at 671 acres Saturday, 500 acres larger than the previous day.
The Klondike and Granite fires, burning in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness near the ignition point of the 2017 Chetco Bar fire, are continuing to grow, fire officials said.
This area is very rugged and has been unsafe for firefighters, according to an incident update. “A strategy is being developed to limit the growth of the fires. ... A team of fire experts is being assembled to develop a long-term strategy for controlling these fires. A strike team of engines is being deployed to the Oak Flats area, east of the fires, to conduct structure protection.”
A fire weather watch is in effect for Sunday afternoon and evening in Southern Oregon and Northern California, with the possibility of abundant lightning.
Reach Mail Tribune features editor David Smigelski at 541-776-8784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.