Southern Oregon wildfires update: Two confirmed dead, 600 homes damaged, destroyed in Almeda fire
The breadth of destruction the Almeda Drive Fire has waged on southern Oregon is unfolding as crews continue to bring the fire under control.
As of Thursday morning, the fire had killed two people, damaged or destroyed 600 homes and 100 commercial buildings, officials said.
“It’s the whole 13-mile swath. The fire started north of Ashland, went up the I-5, Highway 99 corridor and just took out communities, businesses, infrastructure, utilities all the way through Talent, Phoenix and up to the south end of Medford,” Rich Tyler, of the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office, said of the fire’s path and speed. “You talk about impact and talk about the Camp Fire. There are a lot of similarities. This would be the Oregon version of that.”
Winds were gusting 35 mph to 45 mph when the fire started Tuesday.
"All you needed was a spark, and the wind and the relative low humidity is what drove that fire," said Marc Spilde, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Medford.
Eighty-five people died in the Camp Fire and the community of Paradise, with a population of about 27,000, was leveled, making that wildfire the deadliest and most destructive in California history.
The Salem Statesman Journal reported the Almeda fire is the "worst devastation" one fire official has ever seen.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown approved an emergency conflagration declaration for the Almeda fire. The declaration authorized the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal to mobilize resources to assist local resources battling the fire.
Approximately 32,000 people have either been evacuated or are in shelters due to the fire.
Tyler cautioned that the damaged estimates are preliminary.
“Until we can go through and get a good, solid assessment, those are just early numbers,” Tyler said.
The Almeda fire has burned 3,200 acres and is zero percent contained. Firefighters from across the state and out of state continue to work to bring the blaze under control, Tyler said
“However, we are competing with other fires burning in Oregon, so we are reaching out to other states for help,” he said.
The cause of the fire has not been determined.
Tyler emphasized that the Almeda fire was not a wildlands fire. There was some grass and wildland that did burn.
But “it was a conflagration of this house burning, which caused more houses to burn, which caused more houses to burn,” Tyler said.
Fueled by high winds, the fire ran in a channel likely burning up structures as it raced north up to Bear Creek.
“The wind was blowing out of the southeast and the fire started at the north end of Ashland, so the wind blew it away from Ashland,” Tyler said.
The winds have calmed, which should give firefighters a good chance to increase containment of the fire, Tyler said.
Meanwhile, the South Obenchain Fire burning about 20 miles northeast of Medford was estimated at 20,500 acres as of Wednesday night.
The fire is burning in mountainous terrain, but there are structures threatened, the Oregon Department of Forestry said.
Winds pushed the fire toward Shady Cove, which forced the evacuation of 5,000 residents.
David Benda covers business, development and anything else that comes up for the USA TODAY Network in Redding. He also writes the weekly "Buzz on the Street" column. He’s part of a team of dedicated reporters that investigate wrongdoing, cover breaking news and tell other stories about your community. Reach him on Twitter @DavidBenda_RS or by phone at 1-530-225-8219. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today.