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Unattended burn piles caused wildfire northeast of Rogue River, fire officials say

The Oregon Department of Forestry says that the Wards Creek Road Fire was started by escaped burn piles. The responsible party has been cited, ODF said.

Posted: Apr 7, 2021 5:10 PM
Updated: Apr 7, 2021 5:17 PM

ROGUE RIVER, Ore. — An alarming wildfire that drew in firefighters from all over the Rogue Valley on Tuesday night was caused by unattended burn piles that spread to the wildlands, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Rogue River Fire District initially responded to reports of a spreading grass fire in the 3700-block of Wards Creek Road, northeast of Rogue River, just before 5:30 p.m. that evening. The fire was initially estimated at three acres in size, but it was quickly spreading uphill into heavy brush and timber.

RRFD triggered a second and third alarm, calling in help from multiple local fire agencies. The steep terrain hindered bulldozers from helping to line the fire, leaving most of the work for fire crews, ODF said. Within three hours, crews were able to build a hose line around the entire perimeter, but winds caused the main fire to spot in the hills above.

ODF brought in more resources to relieve the original firefighter engines, working to contain the spot fires over night. By early Wednesday morning, the agency said that the fire was contained — allowing crews to begin mopping up.

After GPS mapping, the total fire area was estimated at just over eight acres, including the spot fires.

"Due to direction the fire was spreading, evacuations were never ordered and no homes were threatened," ODF said. "Wards Creek Road was closed for a time to everyone but residents and fire personnel; that closure has since been lifted."

Fire investigators looked over the scene and spoke with witnesses, determining that the fire had been caused by multiple unattended burn piles. ODF said that the responsible party was cited.

"This incident is not the first of its kind this week; fire agencies from across southern Oregon have responded to multiple escaped burns in the past seven days. Warmer weather, winds and a lack of rain are contributing to increased fire activity and risk," ODF said.

Fire officials said that conditions are more comparable to late spring in the Rogue Valley in areas below 3,000 feet. As a result, debris burns can easily escape into the wildlands. Burn piles also run the risk of reigniting, due to the winds and dry conditions.

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