Large-Scale Fire Response Underway

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MEDFORD, Ore. – Teams from five federal agencies, as well as state, local, and contract crews continue to battle a series of wildfires caused by overnight lightning strikes.

Officials with the Bureau of Land Management say nearly a hundred ignition points sparked up throughout the night.

Much of the coordination for that firefight takes place at Medford’s interagency communication center, where a team of about 25 members works at all hours to keep the operation going.

“We’ll probably see more from that lightning pop up today, and we want to knock those down as quickly as possible because we don’t want any more large fires out here,” said Jim Whittington with the Bureau of Land Management.

Each fire is ranked by complexity on a five point scale.

A Type-5 incident would be a small flare-up, a type one could be unpredictable enough to endanger entire neighborhoods or even towns.

Of the 100 or so fires Friday night, three have escalated to Type-2.

“It doesn’t take much for a fire to get up and run with these conditions, with the fuels and vegetation this dry, with the air this hot, with the sun beating down on it,” said Whittington.

Fuels, wind, inaccessible terrain, and many other factors mean Type-2 fires can easily involve upwards of 500 firefighters each, centered in field command posts.

Between the three Type-2 fires – the Douglas Complex, Whiskey Complex, and Labrador Fire – the US Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry are splitting eight air tankers plus helicopters and other air support.

While it’s a lot of balls to juggle, officials say they do it often – and quite well.

“We’re not tapped out by any means,” said Whittington. “We still have a lot of capacity here, and we can deal with it.”

But officials say they could be tapped out before too long. Based on previous years, fire season hasn’t yet reached its peak.

“We haven’t even hit august yet and usually august is our big fire season and we’re already having a lot of things going on,” said Whittington.