The Milepost 97 Fire, burning right now in southern Douglas County, started on the night of July 24. To those familiar with the area, its nasty territory to fight fire. Narrow, rocky, steep sided valleys, with few roads, and checkerboard ownership, where the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) owns every other section. Private land owners, tribes, and the state own the alternate sections.
The fire was human caused, by a campfire started on the side of the I-5. In strong winds that whistle down those canyons, it raced up the hill on the west side of the freeway and into a fire scar from 1987 on BLM land that has just been transferred to the Cow Creek Tribe. The BLM had done no rehab work on the land. It was covered with very dead standing tree stems in a thicket of scrub brush that you couldn’t beat your way through, a dangerous territory for a ground attack.
Five days later, the fire covers over 11,000 acres. There are close to 1,400 people that have turned the tide on this fire. The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), Douglas Fire Protective Association (DFPA), Roseburg and Medford BLM, Cow Creek Tribe, and landowners: Roseburg Forest Products, Silver Butte, and Lone Rock, are all on the scene with crews and equipment that are working hard in dangerous conditions and doing amazing work to build and improve fuel breaks, dump thousands of gallons of water and retardant, and dig out hot spots.
This fire is another in the long list of conflagrations that have come to define life in rural southwest Oregon.
Rural Douglas County is a great example of people helping people. Being no strangers to wildfire, residents willingly help their neighbors when the evacuation notices go out. Livestock are relocated out of the danger area, prized possessions are packed up and out, and doors are opened to shelter folks that must leave their homes. The good people of Douglas County are tough stock, but there are not many things more terrifying than watching a wall of fire coming toward your home.
A very special call-out to Douglas County Commissioners Tim Freeman, Chris Boice, and Tom Kress, and to Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin. County government plays a leadership role in wildfire and these leaders stand out with their professionalism, calm demeanor, and get-it-done attitude.
Contributed by: Susan Morgan | Legislative Affairs Manager