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By Kehn Gibson, Tri-County Courier, August 18 edition

ground crew attacking fire moving towards house
© Pat Ratliff

Ratliff on the road; fire closes Hwy 97

Returning home from viewing the complex of fires burning near Crater Lake, photojournalist Pat Ratliff found Highway 97 blocked by a large fire near Modoc Point Monday.

Ratliff said the ODOT worker who told him the highway was closed apologized for the inconvenience. “I told him ‘Hey, don’t worry about it,’” Ratliff said. “I think it kind of threw him off.”

Showing his credentials, Ratliff was snapping pictures within minutes from where his reputation is building — at the fire’s front, next to the fire dogs working the line.

Officials said the fire was reported at 2 p.m. from a passing motorist on Hwy. 97. The wind-driven fire threatened a nearby home on Modoc Point before roaring up the ridge.

The decision to close the highway came after officials became worried the fire might loosen rock on the steep ridge bordering Hwy. 97. In addition, helicopters taking water from Upper Klamath Lake were crossing the highway at low altitudes.

Fire bosses assigned significant air resources to fighting the fast moving blaze — four air tankers and 3 helicopters. Two of the air tankers were single engine tankers, pressed into service this year after more than 30 bigger — and higher capacity — air tankers were grounded because of federal safety concerns.

The decision to rely on the air support came in part because there were limited numbers of firefighters — just two 20-person crews were assigned to the fire — were available.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service said additional firefighting crews had been ordered, and expected to arrive by Tuesday morning.

The fire grew to more than 100 acres by Monday evening, and as of Tuesday morning the fire had doubled in size to more than 200 acres.

Five hand crews, numbering 100 firefighters, were fighting the blaze, aided by 10 water tankers, three helicopters and one multi-engine air tanker and one single-engine air tanker.

The fire is similar to a fire nearly a year ago near Hagglestein Park on Hwy. 97.

That fire burned nearly 600 acres before being controlled, and also brought about a closure of the highway.

The start of the Hagglestein Fire was most likely a burning cigarette tossed from a passing vehicle, investigators said at the time.

The ignition point of the Modoc Point fire was adjacent to a graveled area next to the highway. Although the cause of the fire is officially undetermined at this time, lightning has been ruled out.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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