Fire District #4 had a very busy weekend on Oct. 6-7, and what could have been disastrous ended with relatively little destruction of property.
According to Chief Bob Miller, a fire broke out just to the north of Shady Cove on the bluff above the Rogue River in the early afternoon of Oct. 7. That fire eventually burned a total of about five acres, but while they were battling the flames, another fire broke out at Stewart State Park in a brush pile adjacent to Highway 62. The second fire quickly spread to surrounding blackberry vines and grasses in the park. With two blazes going at the same time, the District was stretched to capacity. Captain Miller called for help from Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) in Medford who sent a helicopter with a bucket.
Just as the second call came in, volunteers from the Fire District #4 substation below the dam were already on the way to the fire in Shady Cove so they quickly reversed course to Stewart State Park. There they worked with the ODF crew and the ODF helicopter to keep the fire from spreading. A second helicopter arrived and together they dowsed the blaze while ODF and Fire District #4 mopped up.
Meanwhile, the Shady Cove fire was spreading though the dry grasses, heading toward some four or five homes in the immediate area. When the crews finally got that blaze extinguished, the second of the two helicopters was heading back to its base in Grants Pass when it experienced engine failure. The pilot looked for the best place to land and feathered the rotor to come down as softly as possible. But the steep terrain prevented him from finding a suitable landing area, so the helicopter came down and rolled to its side. The pilot was banged up but otherwise unhurt. Getting to the location, somewhere between Rogue River Drive and Beagle Road, was difficult because there were no roads. So rescue crews hiked in where they met the transport helicopter who took the pilot to Medford.
The three incidents could have been much worse, given the dry state of the countryside. The Stewart State Park incident could have been prevented by checking that ashes taken from a fire were dead out. Had winds been blowing the Shady Cove fire too, could have been more serious, even threatening homes. Had the helicopter crash cause a fire, it would have been fought by ground crews and helicopters because of the lack of roads in the area.
Fire District #4 crews were already tired from a rescue operation the day before at the extreme northern portion of Jackson County. There a deer hunter fell, breaking a leg and having to be airlifted to medical attention.
The community owes a debt of gratitude to crews from Fire District #4 and also to ODF, Fire District #3 the Prospect Fire District that helped with the Stewart State Park incident.
There is no doubt that the woods are in an extreme situation. The cooler temperatures are a plus and rain will help, but at this moment, they are close to explosive. Be careful no matter what your use of the forest. The grasslands in the valley are also on the unstable side too, and caution must be used when any flame is around ignitable materials.