July 31, 2002 – I.V. News
All valley on a 30-minute evacuation notice due to ‘uncontrollable fire’
By Sherri Hopper
Now in its third week, the fires that comprise the Biscuit Complex continue to grow, having already displaced a number of residents and posing a threat to the entire Illinois Valley.
The Biscuit Complex is now considered top priority in Southwestern Oregon.
Approximately 1,400 firefighters plus a large number of support personnel are in the valley. In addition, Josephine County Search and Rescue has set up a command post at Selma Select Market, near the fire command center.
In addition, numerous fire engines, water tenders and other equipment, including bulldozers and helicopters, have come out of the area to help because of the extent of the emergency.
Initially comprised of four fires burning trees and brush, suppression efforts at the initial Carter Fire were successful, bringing it to early containment.
Firefighters were not so lucky with the remaining lightning caused fires. Burning in steep, rugged terrain, the fires posed a risk to ground crews and air suppression resources have been stretched thin as fires burn throughout Oregon and in several other states.
In addition, smoky conditions and wind factors have prevented fire-fighting helicopters in the valley, and fixed wing aircraft based in Medford, from flying in water or fire retardant.
With the threat of evacuation, fire management has established evacuation triggers – boundaries of the fire progress that in turn effect different areas of the Illinois Valley, setting into motion different evacuation notices.
Currently, 30-minuite evacuation notices have been established for all residents east and west of Hwy. 199, from Fort Hay in Selma to Finch Road in Kerby. The 30-minute trigger means that people should be prepared to evacuate within 30 minutes when notified.
When the fire reaches the second trigger point, the 24-hour evacuation notice comes into effect. As of Tuesday morning all other residents living on the east and west sides of Hwy. 199 fell into that area.
Fire officials are clear about the fact that this does not mean that people must leave in 24 hours. On the other hand there is no guarantee that the fire will not be, or that residents will have a full 24 hours before evacuation, officials said.
No official evacuation orders had been issued as of Tuesday, July 30.
After the Carter Fire, the Sourdough Fire and the Biscuit Fire merged during the second week, becoming the Sour Biscuit Fire in the vicinity of the southern tip of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, approximately 15 miles west of O’Brien. Currently the fire has consumed more than 28,000 acres of vegetation.
The largest blaze, the Florence Fire, has now consumed in excess of 70,000 acres of wildland growth in the area of the north Kalmiopsis Wilderness, some 15 to 20 miles west of Selma.
The Florence Fire caused voluntary evacuation of residents along Illinois River Road last week. It was recommended that residents of Oak Flat evacuate, as well as Store Gulch residents, some eight miles out Illinois River Road.
Oak Flat residents Jerry and Gail Sorenson chose to stay at their home. In a Friday, July 27 meeting with those who had chosen to evacuate from the area, an issue of concern was the provision of goods and equipment to the Sorensons.
As of July 30 they were still holding the line at their residence.
During the initial move of the fire through the Illinois River Road, area some outbuildings were lost, and a subsequent “reburn,” or return of the fire, resulted in the loss of two residences at McCaleb Ranch, now operated by the Boy Scouts of America.
The historical cabin at Store Gulch is receiving protection and was intact as of July 30.
Fire management personal were anticipating that the Sourdough and Biscuit would merge. As of Tuesday morning they were approximately three miles apart. At that time, the southern portion of the Florence Fire was at Rough and Ready Lakes.
The north end of the Sour Biscuit fire is at Biscuit Hill.
The Florence Fire is being managed by the Arizona Central West Zone Management Team, which has more than 900 personnel.
The Sour Biscuit Fire is being managed by the Broyles Type II Interagency Incident Management Team from the Great Basin Idaho Zone. There are approximately 400 personnel assigned.
Besides personnel with the incident management teams, firefighting crews from as far as West Virginia have joined the effort and are dispersed in the valley and assessing the best methods of protecting structures on the valley floor.
They are using what’s known as “structural triage.” It determines house-by-house what could be done to improve fire protection and it gives firefighters insight as to water sources and locations to take stand should the need arise.
With enactment of the Conflagration Act on Saturday, July 27, Gov. Kitzhaber, Illinois Valley residents saw the arrival of task force members from fire districts and agencies throughout the state, arriving with personnel and fire-fighting apparatus that has been stationed here in preparation to defend structures.
Chief Kyle Kirchner of Illinois Valley Fire Protection District Fire initiated the process with the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office. As of Monday there were six task forces, with approximately thirty fire-fighting vehicles.
Cooperating agencies include a range of federal, state and local agencies, and also communications companies, in capacities that include directly dealing with the wildfires, law enforcement, security and emergency services.
Currently there are approximately 30 different agencies working on the various components of the situation, with additional agencies coming online each day.
For many days planners have anticipated the arrival of the fire on the valley floor and have established evacuation targets in order to give people adequate time to evacuate from the valley.
Lt. Lee Harmon, of the Josephine County Sherriff’s Office, has continually stressed the importance of being prepared to leave.
“In the past,” he has said during public meetings, “more people have been injured or killed in an evacuation than by the crisis that precipitated the evacuation. We want people to be prepared.”
Kirtchner also has underlined the concerns regarding this wildfire at public meetings.
“We fully expect this fire to greet us in the valley,” he said to the crowd at I.V. High school on July 29. “I am urging you to identify your valuables, and to take care of things now; help us do this in an orderly fashion.”
Also in the interest of being prepared for a large scale evacuation, incident managers are working with California agencies in the interest of being able to reopen Hwy. 199 to the south, which was closed due to what some people are saying was an arson Fire. It is anticipated that 199 southbound access may again be in place as soon as Wednesday July 31 or Thursday, Aug. 1.
Rumors of closure for Hwy. 199 north, and Happy Camp Road east of Takilma and O’Brien are not true.
Neither is it true that Patrick Creek Lodge, some 20 minutes southwest of Illinois Valley on 199, was destroyed by fire. In fact Bill and Cindy Grier fed 150 firefighters breakfast on Tuesday July 30. Fire came close to the lodge on Sunday, but it was not harmed.
They have been open for business as usual for regular customers as well as firefighters.
A fire in the Gasquet area of California, southwest of Patrick Creek, has burned less than 100 acres of brush and trees as of Tuesday. The fire began on Sunday, and caused some evacuations, including the Bar-O-Boys Ranch, run by the California Dept. of Corrections. No injuries were reported.
Officials were working on getting 100 open for southbound traffic, but when was not indicated.