The Chetco Bar Fire burning in southern Oregon on Aug. 20, 2017

The Chetco Bar Fire burning in southern Oregon on Aug. 20, 2017


The Chetco Bar Fire in southwest Oregon has been burning since July. It’s now scorched about 118-,000 acres and it’s still completely uncontained. Last week it was designated the nation’s top priority wildfire.

The megafire is still burning just five miles outside the coastal city of Brookings. OPB/EarthFix reporter Jes Burns is on the scene asking questions and getting answers.

What’s The Status This Afternoon Of Both The Fire And The Evacuations It’s Caused?

Things were holding strong on the fire lines as of Monday afternoon. The evacuation levels — calling for most residents to be ready to get out in case the fire becomes more of a threat —  remain unchanged.  Fire officials say this is really good news considering the weather conditions got hotter, drier and breezier over the weekend and they’re expected to remain that way through the evening. So everyone is still on pretty high alert just in case  

Officials Have Warned Of ‘Hazardous Smoke Impacts.’ How Smoky Is It There?

The smoke here has been gnarly – brutal in the mornings, especially.  That’s when the breeze off the ocean drops and the smoke from the fire – about five miles away comes pouring down the mountains. I woke to what smelled like campfires in my hotel room this morning and the visibility was less than a quarter-mile.

In the afternoons here the sea breeze usually picks up and clears things  out – and by Monday afternoon things had gotten much better.  I’ve seen quite a few people around town walking with breathing masks on trying to keep out the worst of it. And others were out strolling on the beach this morning.

Smoke conditions at times have risen to “hazardous” levels, prompting advisories that everyone stay indoors.

Local resident Lauren Paulson has had two friends in the hospital with respiratory issues. He questioned decision-making on a fire that grew so quickly and so close to town.

“This fire’s air quality impact is largely being ignored, and that’s what I’m asking not happen,” he said.

The smoke has created unhealthy conditions in the Medford and Ashland area as well.

How Is The Community Reacting To The Stress Of This Very Large Fire Burning Nearby?

People seem to be really coming together. Along with more typical donations of food and supplies to those in need. An impromptu volunteer laundry service has been set up for firefighters; there’s a list going around of local people who will wash clothes at their houses for the people working here.  I’m also hearing about local residents paying forward pints of beer at one local brewery for firefighters who come in after shift.  A lot of community mobilization.

What’s Happening With A Special Cultural Historic Location Within The Burn Zone And What’s Being Done To Protect It?

There’s a historic site in the forest burn zone east of Brookings. A Japanese floatplane actually dropped incendiary bombs up there in 1942. It’s the only place on the U.S. mainland where an enemy plane dropped bombs during the war.    

Now there’s a trail and interpretive signs. Twenty years after that incident, the Japanese pilot who dropped the bomb visited Brookings and a coastal redwood was planted in commemoration. So fire crews here have gone in to try to safeguard the site.

Linn Gassaway is leading a team charged with protecting significant natural and cultural locations. The crews made what Gassaway described as “a little tripod around the tree” and then wrapped that with fire shelter material.

“Just so that embers if they come down, they won’t land right on the tree. They’ll hit the fire shelter material and hopefully won’t ignite around it,” she said. “I always say it gives them a fighting chance.”

 The fire boundary is still a couple miles away from the Japanese bombing site.