Fire conditions in southwest Oregon improved slightly over the past couple days, as stagnant smoke helped raise the humidity. Those conditions started to change Tuesday morning, which is expected to increase activity on multiple wildfires burning in the region.
West of Grants Pass, the boundaries of the Taylor Creek and Klondike fires had grown to within about seven miles of each other Tuesday. Fire information officer Bill Queen said crews will try to maintain the gap because of what lies in between.
“There’s some recreational infrastructure between the two fires over in Briggs Valley that we don’t want to burn up,” he said.
This includes trailheads, a campground, horse camp and interpretive sites.
But keeping the fires separate may not be possible, and the commands in charge of each are starting to plan how to combine resources.
“A lot of coordination there to figure out how these two fires might end up coming together. And (how) our operations can be organized and coordinated for the highest effect with the resources we have,” said Kale Casey with the Southwest Oregon Joint Information Center.
The Taylor Creek Fire, which was broken off from a larger complex of fires Monday and given its own command structure, has been the latest focus for crews. Several areas on the outskirts of Grants Pass remain under evacuation notice. In addition, part of the Rogue River has been closed to public access.
In total, wildfires in the region had burned more than 50,000 acres of forestland by Tuesday afternoon. The immediate impacts are being felt by people living near the fires, but communities downwind are feeling the effects as well.
The 150,000 people that live in the Rogue Valley — southern Oregon’s largest population center — have been breathing unhealthy levels of smoke for going on two weeks.
It’s making life much more complicated for those wanting to be outdoors. For example, in Ashland, the Southern Oregon University football and soccer teams have been forced to practice inside. The athletic department says they make a call every morning based on air quality.
Across the valley in Jacksonville, the popular outdoor Britt Music Festival has decided to move its classical performances to a local high school.
“This is going to have a tremendous impact on the Britt organization. Absolutely. It’s going to be very costly,” said festival CEO Donna Briggs.
And for more than a week, Oregon Shakespeare Festival has canceled its main outdoor performances due to smoky conditions deemed too dangerous for its company.
The smoke in southwest Oregon has mostly been coming from the Taylor Creek, Klondike and Garner Complex fires.
Correction: Aug. 2, 2018. An earlier version of this story misstated the proximity of the Taylor Creek and Klondike fires as of Tuesday, July 31. The two fires were separated by a distance of about seven miles.