Fire officials address community members near the Milepost 97 fire

'Good things are happening, but you have to give us a little time.'

Posted: Jul 28, 2019 8:15 PM
Updated: Jul 29, 2019 11:05 AM

CANYONVILLE, Ore. -- Douglas County Sheriff's Office is hosted a community meeting at Glendale High School on Sunday evening.
The incident commander, operations and DCSO representatives were all available to answer any questions attendees had.

Aaron Whiteley, the South Unit Forester for the Douglas Forest Protective Association, said the firefighters are "busting their butts to stop this fire and keep the surrounding communities safe".

Whiteley said several spot fires sparked Saturday night that crews were able to catch in time, but are still working to mop up along Interstate 5.  He said working back around towards the southwest side of the MP 97 fire, anything that has popped up has been contained in that area. 

Right now, crews are actively working to create more fire lines outside of the current lines. This is in case the fire escapes and jumps to more land beyond the existing lines.

Whiteley said, "A lot of tough days of firefighting ahead, but a lot of good people out working on this fire."

He explained there's been four injuries out on this fire so far, mainly as a result of the tough terrain. Together, officials are hoping to increase safety for crews. His message was above all, it's important for those to understand the different levels of evacuation and sign up for the emergency alert system because it is the quickest and fastest way to be contacted during wildfires. 

Officials said they understand most people are hesitant to leave their homes during evacuations, but DCSO wants everyone to know extra crews will be monitoring the evacuated homes.

As of Saturday night, the current size is over 11,000 acres. Officials explained they only get good readings of the size through an infrared flight that can only be done at night. Therefore, they said they are unable to release updated acreage throughout the day.

Currently there are smoke monitors in all areas south of the fire, except the coast. Offficials are contemplating adding new monitors one in Canyonville and Brookings. As of now, the smoke pattern reveals smoke is moving down south mostly. However, during the day, the smoke is blowing towards the west, reaching all the way to Crater Lake National Park. At night, there is more of an eastern impact in areas like Medford. Officials said this pattern will persist for a while.

Officials advice people to minimize exposure to the smoke, even if that means adjusting your daily routine to include outdoor activies only at times when smoke is at the most minimal.

Link Smith, Oregon Department of Forestry's Incident Management Team (imt), said "this fire surprised him a little bit". What suprised him? He said we've had an average year weather wise, and by this time last year we had fire teams all over the state. Smith said when this fire originally started at only 10 acres, he thought crews would be able to contain it immediately.  Quickly, he said he realized that wasn't going to be the case. 

Smith said what he noticed: no matter where a spark lands, it's starting a fire and spreads quickly.

"Where we are at right now, I don't want to be pessimistic, but, we are trying to minimize the spread, but 5% [containment] isn't very much," Smith said. 

The fire is being pushed to the north and the west and he said crews are "having a time holding this fire". Smith said crews are doing everything they can to prevent the fire from spreading.

Smith said the good news for people most concerned about the areas directly below the fire, like Azalea, he said he feels very secure about.

"I feel pretty comfortable that we are safe here, but we have a lot of work ahead of us as we try to secure this fire."

Smith said to make it clear, the objective of this fire is a full-suppression fire. Officials aren't "allowing" this fire to burn, but giving it everything they have put it out fully. He said worst case scenario, the fire will continue to move to the south and the east. Smith said there is an unbelievable amount of resources available to us right now and they are putting as many crews on the fire as they can fit out there.

"Good things are happening, but you have to give us a little time," Smith said. 

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