Rogue Valley News, Friday 7/30 – Crews Busy with Lightning Caused Fires, Grants Pass ‘Take Your Shot’ Scholarship Winner Speaks Out, Medford Homeowner Holds Suspect At Gunpoint Until Police Arrived

The latest news stories of interest in the Rogue Valley and around the state of Oregon from the digital home of Southern Oregon, Wynne Broadcasting’s RogueValleyMagazine.com

Friday, July 30, 2021

Rogue Valley Weather

Today– Isolated showers and thunderstorms after 11am. Mostly sunny and hot, with a high near 102. Calm wind becoming west southwest around 5 mph in the afternoon. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

Saturday– Mostly sunny and hot, with a high near 100. Light and variable wind.

Sunday– A 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after 11am. Partly sunny and hot, with a high near 98. Calm wind becoming north northwest around 5 mph in the afternoon.

Monday– Sunny and hot, with a high near 99.

Tuesday– Sunny and hot, with a high near 97.

LOCAL HEADLINES:

Crews Busy with Lightning Caused Fires

The Oregon Department of Forestry is monitoring five small fires on their protected land and an additional two on U.S. Forest Service Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forestland. The fires are due to a lightning storm that went through Thursday evening. Fire

The largest fire is a quarter of an acre with all others ranging between 1/10th to 1/100th of an acre. Fire crews are either still on scene or have already knocked down these fires. Firefighters will remain on duty to respond to any additional fires. ODF was assisted by Applegate Valley Fire District and Rural Metro Fire – Josephine County.

With thunderstorms moving through parts of Siskiyou and Jackson counties, firefighters are responding to reports of lightning strikes within the Klamath National Forest and in the Applegate Valley.

Shortly before 6:30 p.m., the U.S. Forest Service for the Klamath National Forest reported multiple lightning-caused fires across the Salmon-Scott River Ranger District. Three fires have been confirmed; the Post, Muse, and Campbell fires.

The Oregon Department of Forestry said that the thunderstorm was making its way north through the Applegate Valley, and the agency was sending engines to respond as mutual aid for a fire in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest as well as patrolling for additional starts.

“Our Detection Center specialists are monitoring the affected areas and searching for new smoke,” ODF said.

The Applegate Valley Fire District posted briefly to say that its crews were busy responding to emergency calls and would not be able to answer phones or post updates for a while.

The National Weather Service has also issued a red flag warning for wildfires due to the threat of thunderstorms with lightning across much of the cascades, central Oregon and southern Oregon.

The full list of red flag warnings, excessive heat warnings and heat advisories is available here.

Medford Homeowner Holds Suspect At Gunpoint Until Police Arrived

City of Medford selects new police chief from within the department

According to the Medford Police Department’s Lieutenant Mike Budreau, officers were called to an East Medford home around 3:30 a.m. regarding a homeowner holding a burglary suspect at gunpoint.

“We ultimately determined that the homeowners, who were a couple in their 70’s and were the only ones in the home, were asleep when they both awakened to noises outside,” Budreau said.

He explained that the male homeowner instructed his wife to call the police after he saw one of his ladders propped up on the side of his home.

“He then got dressed, obtained his handgun, and went to investigate further,” Budreau added. “He ultimately found that the suspect was still on the roof, the first story roof, he had removed a screen to one of the windows.”

Budreau said that is when the homeowner confronted the suspect and held him face down at gunpoint until officers arrived.

When they arrived at the home, they found 40 years old Phillip DeLacruz and arrested him on charges of Attempted Burglary 1 and Trespass.

Budreau added that the homeowners and DeLacruz have no connection and he does not know why DeLacruz choose their home. “However, when we are looking at this entire incident, why did this suspect choose this home, this home is out of the way,” he explained. “This particular residence was very dark, there were no exterior lights and there were no interior lights.”

Budreau explained that his team suspects that DeLacruz chose the home because he probably thought no one was inside and he is reminding residents to secure their properties.

He said some of those steps include stalling outdoor lights, using indoor timer lighting, or investing in a security system.

“We investigate enough of these to know that burglary suspects do not like light and they don’t want the risk of getting caught, it can be very simple as making your home look like there’s someone is inside the home,” he added.

Grants Pass “Take Your Shot” Scholarship Winner Speaks Out

Take Your Shot, Oregon incentive winner Laney got vaccinated to be better protected against COVID-19 and to protect her friends and the community.

She plans to use her $100,000 Oregon College Savings Plan scholarship to make a lifelong dream come true.

AROUND the STATE of OREGON

Gov. Brown Declares Emergency For 23 Counties Due to Heatwave

Gov. Brown on Thursday declared a state of emergency in 23 counties due to a heatwave that’s expected to bring dangerously hot weather across much of the state into Saturday.

The emergency declaration directs state agencies, such as the Office of Emergency Management, to assist local and Tribal jurisdictions in responding to the heatwave and keeping people safe.

On Thursday, temperatures throughout the state flirted with the 100-degree mark in many areas, and topped it in a few, with 97 reported at Portland-Hillsboro Airport, 99 in Salem, 99 in Redmond and Bend, and 104 in Medford.

On Thursday, some residents of the Portland area reported receiving alerts or calls on their cellphones about the heat advisory.

Temperatures are forecast to get as high as 99 degrees in the Portland metro area on Friday, according to the National Weather Service. In Southern Oregon, they could reach 102. In the eastern Columbia Gorge, they could reach 101. Highs on Saturday were expected to drop back down to the low to mid-90s for those areas.

Several communities in the greater Portland area have announced plans to open cooling centers. Across Oregon, people can call 211 for information about cooling centers in their communities.

Andrew Phelps, the director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said people should check on their friends, family and neighbors, or should request a public safety welfare check if they’re concerned about their well-being in the heat.

“My hope is that all Oregonians take excessive heat watches and warnings from the National Weather Service a little more seriously since we understand just how deadly these events can be, especially in some of our urban centers,” Phelps said.

To prevent heat illness, health officials recommend staying in air-conditioned buildings and not rely on a fan as a primary cooling device. They advise people to limit outdoor activity during the hottest part of the day and to stay hydrated. If you start to feel unwell, take a cool shower or bath to lower your body temperature, sip water and call for help.

The 23 counties affected by Gov. Brown’s heat emergency declaration on Thursday are: Benton, Columbia, Clackamas, Curry, Douglas, Gilliam, Grant, Hood River, Jackson, Josephine, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Morrow, Multnomah, Polk, Sherman, Umatilla, Wasco, Washington, Wheeler and Yamhill.

The declaration also advises people who feel they have been subjected to unconscionably excessive prices for bottled water or other essential consumer goods due to this emergency to report violations to the Oregon Department of Justice Consumer Protection Section.

Oregon Health Authority : Extreme Heat : Get Prepared : State of Oregon

Fire Danger:

The National Weather Service has also issued a red flag warning for wildfires due to the threat of thunderstorms with lightning across much of the cascades, central Oregon and southern Oregon.

The full list of red flag warnings, excessive heat warnings and heat advisories is available here.

As summer progresses, it is important to continue to be cautious about any activity that could lead to a spark and fire. With the drought and record heatwave in June, this fire season will require all members of our communities to work together to prevent wildfires.

Before a wildfire occurs in your area, create defensible space near your home by removing flammable vegetation and other combustible material. This includes cleaning gutters, roofs, and removing material under decks. Stay prepared by developing an evacuation plan for your family and assembling an emergency supply kit.

Extreme Drought Over Most of Oregon

The U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC.

Drought worsened in Oregon and the West Coast this week as “critically dry conditions persisted across northern California and the Northwest,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

There is drought in nearly the entire state – 93.67% – qualifies as Severe Drought or worse.

The percentage of Oregon experiencing more severe Extreme Drought jumped up from 56% last week to over 71% this week. And the worst category, Exceptional Drought, now applies to almost a quarter of the state.

Last year at this time, none of the state qualified as Exceptional – and less than 13% registered as Extreme.

According to the U.S. Drought monitor, in Extreme Drought conditions Oregon can expect to see wildfire activity high; reservoirs and lakes low; and environmental impacts on farmers as well as wildlife.

The U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Office of State Fire Marshal Temporarily Suspends Enforcement of Gas Station Self-Service

With the current and forecasted heat in Oregon, the Office of the State Fire Marshal is suspending their enforcement of the regulations that prohibit the self-serve of gasoline at retail gasoline service stations. Governor Brown’s Office approved the suspension of the regulations. The suspension is in place for 24 hours, until 11:59 pm on Friday, July 30th, 2021.

With the hot incoming weather, the Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal acknowledges employees working outside. For businesses who choose to continue to provide full service, our Office encourages them to provide water and cool areas to keep employees safe. 

This suspension of the self-service regulations does not affect areas of the state or timeframes that are already authorized for self-service refueling under Oregon law. Information about the rules suspension for self-service gasoline can be found on the OSFM website. — Oregon State Fire Marshal

WILDFIRE UPDATES

BOOTLEG FIRE:

The fire is holding steady at a little more than 413,500 acres and still about 53% contained.

Despite the recent rain, fire activity picked up yesterday. Fire Behavior Specialist Chris Moore commented on how unusual it is to see fire flare ups so quickly after a wetting rain. “As we move out of normal climatological range, previous experience is less relevant,” said Moore. “The rain that we got will not put the fire out. Spotting will become more of an issue as fuels dry out again.” Incident Commander Norm McDonald reinforced this caution stating that we need “a recalibration of where we are. There isn’t a ‘normal’ anymore. We need to be prepared for anything.” 

Fire activity increased as the warm day dried out the fire faster and wind gusts were stronger than expected. The northwest corner remains the most active area. Dozers and hand crews are working together to close the line around that portion of the perimeter. Heavy helicopter support kept the fire cool while crews worked around Round Butte.  The objective today is to hold and secure the progress made. 

The east flank of the fire remains active. That edge of the fire is a “dirty edge,” that is, there isn’t a continuous edge to the fire in this area as the fire leaves pockets of unburned vegetation. This ragged edge is more difficult for crews to secure. 

In the southern portion of the fire, where activity has been relatively quiet, there were flare ups and smoke plumes visible yesterday from inside the burned area. This is a good thing. Burning fuels within the fire perimeter will help decrease the heat and chances for ember cast in the future. 

Warm weather will continue through the week. Gusty winds are expected today, especially in more open areas.  Yesterday a Fire Weather Watch was issued for much of the fire area through Friday. West of the fire, a Red Flag Warning is in effect through tomorrow due to thunderstorms. Scattered rain and isolated thunderstorms are possible through the weekend. 

JACK FIRE:

At this time, the Jack Fire has burned 22,491 acres and is 61 percent contained. The fire is burning in steep, rugged terrain that is difficult to access, and it continues to be a challenge for fire operations. Yesterday’s relative humidity was too high for crews to conduct their intended firefighting operations, but allowed time for firefighters to prepare for these operations when weather conditions become more favorable.

Current fire behavior is most active south of Hwy 138 in the east, southeast, and south flank of the fire. Crews there are preparing for firing operations as conditions allow, including at the 4770 road, along the 520 road to Twin Lakes, and near Calf Creek. If burn operations occur, please be aware smoke may be visible to the public. Firefighters are successfully holding the control lines north of Hwy 138, where mop-up, patrol, and monitoring activities continue on the northeast, north, and west perimeters of the fire. Last night’s infrared scan indicated a spot fire starting near the west flank; crews will work to contain this start.

Note that a RED FLAG WARNING has been issued for today (Thursday) through Friday due to the extreme heat and low relative humidity with a 30 percent chance for dry thunderstorms over the fire. Concern is for firefighter safety, new fire starts, erratic winds near thunder cells, and potential for unpredictable fire behavior.

ELBOW CREEK FIRE:

With fire activity diminishing and the focus moving to full mop-up operations, Oregon Department of Forestry’s Incident Management Team 3 is starting to “right-size” the organization on the Elbow Creek Fire. Operations’ Section Chief Eric Perkins says that will begin with sending some aircraft to either their home base or to other fires with a greater need.

The Elbow Creek Fire is approximately 22,955 acres and 50 percent contained.

Crews continued grid searching the east side of Elbow Creek for spot fires. After several days of tracking down numerous spot fires in the area, no new spots were discovered. Gridding and mopping up will continue.  

Crews went direct on the fire line in Duckworth drainage, and the few spot fires discovered in the south and southwest area of the fire were mopped up 100%.  Most of north and east perimeter of the fire are in full mop-up mode with continued use of handheld infrared heat detection devices.

Contingency work continues on the north side of the fire with crews improving roads and removing vegetation along these roads in the event a backup fire break be needed.

There have been seven reportable illnesses/accidents on the incident to date; all of which were categorized as minor.   One of the seven occurred yesterday which was an illness from a prior existing condition.

Today’s weather is expected to be mostly sunny with little smoke and haze. The high will be 90-95 degrees, relative humidity 15 to 25 percent, and southwesterly  afternoon winds from 3 to 7 mph with gusts to 14.  

BRULER FIRE:

South Cascade Interagency Type 3 Team will continue to mop-up. It is estimated that another five days of work is needed to complete all secondary contingency lines and have them secure. Confidence grows as mop-up efforts progress; however, the fire has not been tested by higher winds. This may change today as we are expecting scattered thunderstorm cells and lightning in the fire area. Additionally, there is a Red Flag Warning and a Fire Weather Watch in effect over the Bruler Fire area through Thursday night. Crews will continue to be vigilant and adaptable to any potential increases in fire behavior or new starts in the area. “Our goal is to focus day to day, and be flexible where needed” said Chris Mushrush, Type 3 Incident Commander (trainee).

The fire danger level has been raised to “very high”. Campfire restrictions and some vehicle restrictions remain in place. For the complete list of restrictions, please visit https://go.usa.gov/xFbaq. The Willamette National Forest will maintain its large closure area to continue to prioritize safety of the public and firefighters. To see the forest closure map and get any closure updates, please visit the Willamette National Forest webpage at https://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/willamette/alerts-notices

COVID UPDATES

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Coronavirus-update-1-1.jpg

Oregon reports 1,026 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 6 new deaths

There are six new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,855. The Oregon Health Authority reported 1,026 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 218,689.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (11), Benton (17), Clackamas (69), Clatsop (18), Columbia (5), Coos (20), Crook (7), Curry (11), Deschutes (36), Douglas (54), Gilliam (2), Grant (3),  Harney (3), Hood River (4), Jackson (111), Jefferson (4), Josephine (35), Klamath (17), Lane (93), Lincoln (4), Linn (46), Malheur (7), Marion (66), Morrow (6), Multnomah (95), Polk (24), Sherman (5), Tillamook (8), Umatilla (110), Union (21), Wallowa (3), Wasco (27), Washington (60), Wheeler (4) and Yamhill (20).

Oregon’s COVID-19 surge continued Thursday with the third straight day of high case numbers, growing hospitalizations, and soaring test positivity rates as the state stayed largely silent on concrete or immediate steps it would take to curb the spread of disease.

Despite 285 hospital beds now occupied by COVID-19 patients – near the 300-bed threshold Oregon previously used to trigger some COVID-19 restrictions – state officials have yet to say if, or when, they will intervene.

Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday that she would again require masks in K-12 schools, following a recommendation for masking this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the federal government now similarly recommends masks in any public indoor setting in counties with high coronavirus case rates, and Brown so far has issued only recommendations for Oregon rather than requirements.

Thursday’s case count hit 1,026, the second time this week with daily numbers reaching four digits. That propelled the state’s daily average for the past week to 632, an increase of 167% in two weeks, and the highest level since mid-May.

Hospitalizations among people with COVID-19 have been soaring, too, with the rapid summer swell exceeding the pace from the early weeks of the fall and spring surges. And spread appears rampant, with the one-day positivity rate of coronavirus tests jumping Thursday to 8.9%, up from 7.8% a day earlier.

While the state has for days insisted efforts to stem the pandemic must be made locally, policies have in the past changed fast during the pandemic, and Brown’s office and the Oregon Health Authority could conceivably change their stance if cases and hospitalizations continue to rise. The state is expected to publish its latest model on where the pandemic will go from here Friday.

The federal government is similarly struggling to figure out how to stem the resurgence of COVID-19 nationally, with a mandate put in place Thursday that federal staff either get immunized or submit to regular testing.

The Biden administration has also asked states to offer $100 incentives to the unvaccinated. Boyle said the state offers incentives to people with state employee health insurance and has given counties grants for them to devise their own incentives, and is open to ideas.

“We are not ruling out any options, and will take this recommendation from President Biden under consideration,” Boyle said.

Oregon has not released detailed data on new infections, but June data show the vast majority of cases were among people who weren’t vaccinated. Just over 58% of all Oregonians are now vaccinated, with about 932,000 more people to go for the state to reach 80%. Some counties have far lower rates, with Jackson and Josephine counties in southern Oregon at just 46% and 42%.

Those counties now have a combined 65 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, just shy of the 69 peak the region reached Jan. 2.

Rudy Owens, a spokesperson for the Oregon Health Authority, said COVID-19 patients are only one piece of looking at hospital capacity. He said the agency continues to discuss demands with hospitals, which can activate surge plans. Even at the fall peak, Oregon recorded only 584 COVID-19 patients, faring better than virtually all other states.

But some health care systems have once again started postponing some procedures.

Jackson County Health Officer Dr. Jim Shames, whose county has recently seen a 128% increase in its daily case rates in two weeks, said many people in the county distrust the government and are generally wary of people telling them what to do in public places. He said he does not yet know what difference the mask recommendations will make.

But he does believe a mandate coming from the top would likely be more effective than simply asking.

“When you’re told, ‘Thou shalt do something,’ you’re probably more likely to do it than if you’re told, ‘Please do it,’” Shames said.

Shames cautioned that whether to mandate masks is a political question, and one he is not qualified to answer. But that’s exactly why it was helpful when state and federal officials set the standards, such as when Oregon limited business capacity depending on county risk level, he said. “Often we’re grateful that others have sort of set the goal posts for us,” Shames said.

Soak It Week’ Reminds Oregonians to Water Their Trees

Drought is stressing street and yard trees across Oregon, prompting groups like Trees for Life Oregon and Oregon Community Trees to declare the last week in the dry months of July and August as Soak It Week. This is a time for deeply watering trees.

Oregon is in the grip of a deepening drought ranked as severe to exceptional in more than half the state. Our yard and street trees are particularly hard hit by the prolonged dryness. That’s why Trees for Life Oregon and Oregon Community Trees have again declared the last week in July and the last week in August as Soak It Week. Oregonians are reminded that to keep their street and yard trees healthy, give them a good, slow soaking in their root zone.

“Unlike a lawn, trees are a long-term investment well worth the water needed to get them through our dry summers,” according to Kristin Ramstad, ODF’s Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Program Manager. “People enjoy multiple benefits from healthy, mature trees. They not only clean the air and reduce noise pollution, they also keep things cooler through shade and releasing water from their leaves into the air.  There are also mental health and social benefits, such as improved focus and less stress.”

Deciduous trees under three years need weekly watering in Oregon from the time they leaf out until they’re leaves turn in the fall. The recommended amount is about 15 gallons. Young evergreens need watering once winter rains end and until fall rains return. 

If you’re lucky enough to have a drought-tolerant Oregon white oak that may be all the watering you need to do. But most other species of trees still benefit after they are three years old from a good soaking every other week until they are established (typically at about 10 years). After a tree is established, it benefits from deep watering once a month during the dry months of July and August (hence Soak It Week). 

Oregon Community Trees President Samantha Wolf says, “Well-watered trees grow faster and are less likely to suffer scorching of their leaves and premature leaf drop. So watering gives you a better-looking tree over time than ones that struggle through our increasingly dry summers.” 

Learn more about tree watering at https://arbordayblog.org/treecare/how-to-properly-water-your-trees/Oregon Dept. of Forestry

Rescued Baby River Otter Being Cared for at Oregon Zoo

A playful 10-week-old river otter pup has taken up residence at the Oregon Zoo this summer after being orphaned along a roadside in Deer Island, Ore., last month.

The young otter was found June 3 along Tide Creek Road, and admitted to Portland Audubon’s wildlife center for immediate care. Since her mom could not be located, she was transferred to Wildlife Center of the North Coast for rehabilitation, but was determined by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff to be non-releasable due to habituation to people.

With her health stabilized, ODFW contacted the Oregon Zoo to see whether it had space available, and the pup was transferred there on July 13. The pup is currently receiving care at the zoo’s Veterinary Medical Center. Staff are making plans to introduce her to Tilly and the other river otters in zoo’s Cascade Stream and Pond area until a permanent home is found.

The zoo said the pup is estimated to be 10 weeks old and weighs about seven pounds.

“She’s a little bit larger than a kitten and just about as playful,” said Shelly Pettit, who supervises the North America section of the Oregon Zoo.”She’s already a great swimmer and knows how to dry herself off. She’s quite a doll.

Must Read

Rogue Valley News, Monday 5/31 – Two Southern Oregon Wildfires Prompt Evacuation Alerts, Temperatures and Fire Risk Expected to Climb Across Oregon

Renee Shaw

Rogue Valley News, Wednesday 12/9 – Jackson County Distributes Personal Protective Equipment to Local Businesses, Sherm’s Annual Donation to ACCESS

Renee Shaw

Rogue Valley News, Friday 9/2 – Jackson County Sheriff Illegal Grow Bust on Carberry Creek, Rum Creek Fire Update

Renee Shaw