Wildfire Spreads Through 500 Acres in Oregon

July 21, 2013

July 21--WILLIAMS -- After an hours-long battle with a wildfire that grew to more than 500 acres and torched a house, several vehicles and some outbuildings Friday, crews had the blaze under control on Saturday morning.

Oregon Department of Forestry officials said the fire, which started near the Pacifica Garden nature and arts center in Williams, was being mopped up Saturday. By then, appropriate lines had been drawn to help prevent further spread, with crews extinguishing remaining hot spots.

"That's pretty much the mode of the day," said ODF spokesman Brian Ballou.

The fire roared to life Friday in the early afternoon along Watergap Road. High grasses fed the flames, which jumped Powell Creek Road and continued toward the Williams Highway.

About 75 homes were evacuated. The Josephine County Sheriff's Office reported that the American Red Cross had set up emergency shelters at the Josephine County Fairgrounds for evacuees.

Fire agencies from across Southern Oregon flocked to the blaze, attacking it from the air with buckets of water poured from helicopters and air tanker retardant drops, and from the ground. Heat reaching into the mid-90s beat down on the 200 or so firefighters during containment efforts.

"Probably in the neighborhood of 30 engines total," Ballou said.

One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion and another for chest pains. No other injuries were reported. Crews had 75 percent containment by about 7:30 p.m. Friday.

"It did go very efficiently," Ballou said.

Pacifica board president Ray Prag said the facility was spared from the flames, despite the close proximity.

"The flames just seemed to avoid all the structures," Prag said, adding the center's popular Caterpillar, a mobile science center that has been visiting elementary schools in Jackson and Josephine counties for 10 years, also was spared.

"We're thankful for that," he said.

Breezes of 10 to 15 mph were forecast Saturday, but were not expected to cause problems, Ballou said.

"We should be better equipped now to cope with it," he said.

Many area residents returned to their homes Saturday.

"Everything looks pretty quiet," Ballou said.

Copyright 2013 - Mail Tribune, Medford, Ore.

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