Caltrans and CHP will escort vehicles from Oregon Mountain Road to Patrick’s Creek on the Redwood Highway
Update: Highway 199 between Cave Junction and Crescent City is reopen to escorted traffic, the California Highway Patrol announced Saturday evening. Vehicles will be escorted by pilot cars through areas affected by the Smith River Complex fires.
Caution is advised as crews will continue working on firefighting and road repairs for “several weeks if not months,” according to the announcement.
Original story: The main roadway connecting southwest Oregon to northwest California was reopened to strictly commercial traffic Saturday morning.
The California Department of Transportation, Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon State Police and California Highway Patrol announced in collaboration with the Pacific Northwest Incident Management Team 2 and Southwest Incident Management Team 2 Friday, Sept. 1 at 4 a.m. that Highway 199 would reopen, but would be limited to commercial traffic only.
Commercial traffic is restricted to only include commercial vehicles transporting property for commerce, or the exchange of goods and services between businesses.
Northbound traffic will be screened at the Pioneer Road closure in northwest California, and commercial vehicles will be piloted from Patrick’s Creek to Oregon Mountain Road South. Southbound traffic in Oregon will be screened through the Oregon Department of Transportation at the closure in O’Brien, then will be piloted from Oregon Mountain Road South to Patrick’s Creek.
The limited reopening will be a 24/7 service provided until Highway 199 is deemed safe for all vehicle travelers and is completely reopened. Officials have yet to announce a date when Highway 199 will be fully opened to the public.
Highway 199 was closed down Aug. 17 due to the Smith River Complex, which is currently at 83,974 acres — or 131 square miles.
The evacuation level for the area of O’Brien to the California border was reduced from Level 3 “Go Now” to Level 2 “Be Set,” according to the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office.
Friday’s rain brought cool, humid weather to the Smith River Complex’s northern side overnight, with areas of the fire receiving more than a half inch of rain in an hour.
“We’ve had quite a change over the landscape last night, quite a lot of rain all over the fire’s perimeter, which is going to help us with meeting our objectives,” said John Spencer, operations section chief for Northwest Incident Management Team 13, in a Saturday morning video briefing.
Two interagency hotshot crews are constructing direct lines along the live fire edge south of the tunnel on Highway 199, working to cut off fire spread north toward Gilligan Butte.
“We’re hoping in the next two days that that will be completely lined all the way from (Highway 199) to cold black,” Spencer said.
On the northwest end of the fire, hotshot firefighters directed helicopter bucket drops of water on the fire edge. The firefighters are working to build direct lines around the “thumb” of the fire across Oregon’s southern border with California, while other hotshot crews are preparing the 019 Road to be used as a fire line to tie the “thumb” to the 461 Road.
“We going to have an incoming team from Alaska that will be replacing us on Wednesday of this coming week, so we want to make sure we have everything secured,” Spencer said. “I think we’ll be setting them up for good success.”
Air quality levels in Southern Oregon will remain at safe levels throughout Saturday, with Medford, Ashland, Grants Pass and other nearby cities all below 50 air quality index units.
The Smith River Complex is at 9% containment with 3,031 fire personnel fighting the blaze.