By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
The Biscuit Fire was a mop-up effort in California yesterday, but five contract firefighters were injured on their way to the west flank of the massive fire on Wednesday.
Their truck ran off Highway 199 outside O'Brien, Ore. when the driver apparently fell asleep, state police said.
The truck ran off the road near Rough and Ready Creek while headed south to Brookings, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Tom Valluzzi.
The injured firefighters were part of a three-truck convoy driving from Salem to a fire camp in Brookings, state police Senior Trooper Randall Hoxsie said. They had left Salem about 4 a.m. and stopped for breakfast in Grants Pass before the 8 a.m. wreck.
Driver Eddie Martinez, 25, of Salem apparently fell asleep and the crewcab four-wheel-drive pickup veered off the road into a drainage ditch, where it hit a culvert and bounced over it, landing on the other side, facing the opposite direction, Hoxsie said.
The five people in the pickup, all from the Salem area, were taken to Three Rivers Hospital in Grants Pass, where they were treated for minor injuries and released, Hoxsie said. No citations were issued, and the firefighters were taken to the fire camp at Lake Selmac.
Meanwhile, though the threat to homes from the massive Biscuit Fire has eased, Oregon's Gov. John Kitzhaber on Wednesday invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act to mobilize structural firefighters to protect homes on the western flank in case the blaze jumps fire lines.
The biggest fire in Oregon history grew to 390,276 acres as blistering temperatures eased slightly for firefighters working to strengthen containment lines that still have 100 miles to go before fully corralling the blaze in the Siskiyou National Forest.
Temperatures that hit 108 degrees in the interior valleys on Tuesday moderated slightly to about 104 on Wednesday. Coastal fog raised humidity on the western flank, where crews were able to do some burnout to strengthen containment lines along the Chetco River protecting the Wilderness Retreat subdivision.
On the northeast, the fire moved slowly up Indigo Creek toward Bear Camp Road, the main shuttle access for Rogue River whitewater rafters between Agness and Galice.
Agness, population about 150, remained on evacuation alert, but the fire was still five miles away, fire spokesman Paul d'Aquanni said. It was two miles from the nearby area known as Oak Flat.
The fire has burned for a month since a lighting strike ignited it deep in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. With 6,410 people assembled from around the country, as well as Canada, New Zealand and Australia, the fire has cost $56.4 million to fight so far.
The fire was 26 percent contained, with the most secure lines on the eastern and southern flanks. The threat to the 17,000 residents of the Illinois Valley diminished, but an evacuation notice remained in effect warning people to be ready to leave.
The Tiller complex of fires east of Roseburg, burning over 44,880 acres, remained a big concern to firefighters. It was about 41 percent contained.
On the California side, officials said the Biscuit Fire should be 100 percent contained by this morning.
"We have 95 percent containment now in (California) and the crews are just working on mopping up and containment," said Gail Baugh, fire information officer for the Forest Service.
The mop-up effort is being orchestrated by Steve Frye's Incident Management Team, which assumed command yesterday morning from Wally Bennett's team. Bennett's group was transitioned out after it reached its allotted 14 consecutive days on the fire.
Baugh said the origin of the Shelley Creek Fire in California, which was brought under control last week after closing down Highway 199, is still under investigation.
PacifiCorp spokesman Monte Mendenhall said threatened transmission lines near O'Brien, that supply power throughout Del Norte County, were still in good shape yesterday. On Tuesday, fires crept to within half a mile of the lines.
"It is basically status quo. We've been fortunate that the winds have continued to blow in the opposite direction," Mendenhall said. "The weather is supposed to cool down a bit starting (Thursday) but I haven't heard anything about the wind directions yet."
Associated Press writer Jeff Barnard contributed to this report.