By Paul Fattig
Nearly 40 firefighters from the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest have been deployed to battle wildfires in Alaska and Colorado.
The 20-member Rogue River Hotshots, based in Prospect, were sent to Alaska on Saturday. The 17 firefighters who comprise the forest’s rappelling crew are now battling a fire in Colorado after fighting a fire in California and one in Utah.
“We also have miscellaneous overhead staff that have gone to Colorado, and we’re starting to get orders for more personnel to go to Alaska,” said forest spokeswoman Virginia Gibbons.
She said ample equipment and personnel remain to deal with any likely firefighting scenario that may flare up in Southern Oregon.
“If we get active here, we are well-prepared — we are fully staffed,” she said.
There are 140 firefighters available, including three hand crews, six engine crews and a fire prevention patrol out of each ranger district, she said.
In addition, the U.S. Forest Service has cooperative agreements with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Oregon Department of Forestry, contractors and others for additional firefighting firepower, she said.
“We can also tap into the national resource,” she said. “We can gear up when we need to.”
As the fire season heats up locally, the agency will have an air tanker based at the Medford airport to respond to wildfires in the region, she said.
“The air tanker and the hotshots are national resources,” she said. “We host them, but they are gone a lot when they are needed somewhere else.”
The current wet weather will put a damper on the fire danger only briefly, she said.
“As soon as it dries out, the fire danger will be back up there,” she said. “If we get dry lightning, we are going to have an active season.”
The National Weather Service is calling for rain tapering off today, followed by the mercury climbing up into the 90s by Thursday.
The ODF’s Southwest Oregon District dispatched two of its firefighters to Alaska last week, but the agency also is geared up for the local fire season, said spokesman Brian Ballou.
“Everyone is on board — all our firefighters are on and activated,” he said.
The department will have an air tanker based at the Medford airport around July 12, he said, adding that two of its helicopters are based in Medford with a third in Grants Pass.
Fire season began June 3 in Jackson and Josephine counties, several weeks earlier than normal. Although the wet season began with promise with a lot of rain last fall and early winter, it was followed by a record dry spell for the first three months of the year in Medford, creating abnormally dry conditions.
The long-range forecast calls for a hot and unusually dry summer which could mean a busy fire season, particularly if dry lightning storms rumble across the region, officials warn.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at email@example.com.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.