July 23, 2024

Highway 199 reopening delayed

An Inciweb map shows fire locations as of late Saturday. At lower right center, to the southwest of Ashland (at upper right) is the Happy Camp Complex; the large redish patch at lower left is the Smith River Complex, straddling Highway 199 east of Crescent City and southwest of Cave Junction; and at upper left is the Flat Fire west of Grants Pass.
August 27, 2023

Happy Camp Complex grows to 17,900 acres

By James Sloan, Rogue Valley Times

Plans to reopen Highway 199 on Monday have been called off after severe weather and aggressive fire behavior from the Smith River Complex, with the blaze moving further into Josephine County.

The California Highway Patrol and California Department of Transportation have tentative plans to reopen Highway 199 on Wednesday, with hopes that the roadway will be safe for travel by then.

The north side of the Smith River Complex remained active Saturday, with Friday’s afternoon winds and drought-stressed vegetation contributing to fire spread.

The Smith River Complex reached 66,505 acres — or approximately 104 square miles — Saturday morning, growing 9,283 acres since Friday morning. There’s a total of 2,354 fire personnel at the Smith River Complex.

The “contingency west division put in some dozer line from the 4400 Road up to the Rough and Ready Creek, they’re going to continue to work that line and look for other opportunities down towards the south,” said Jesse Stone, operations section chief with Northwest Fire Management Team 13, via a video update Saturday morning.

Fire personnel are focused on constructing direct and indirect fire lines south and west of Gilligan Butte along the 4402 Road to Highway 199, and southeast along the 18N11 and 444 roads.

Firefighters are continuing efforts on the east and west sides of Highway 199, putting in sprinkler systems near Dwight Creek and working towards the Almost Heaven Resort in O’Brien, Stone said.

Saturday’s efforts also include cutting hazard trees along Highway 199 and scouting contingency lines.

“We’re going to continue to look at other opportunities in Division India (the north end of the Smith River Complex) to tie that into (Highway) 199 near the (Collier) Tunnel,” Stone added.

Fire officials are anticipating warmer, drier weather Saturday, along with heavier winds.

“We’re expecting those winds to be a little stronger today than they were yesterday, we’re looking from 8 to 12 mph with gusts to 20 mph over ridges and 6 to 9 mph with occasional gusts at 19 mph in the west- and southwest-aligned valleys,” said Jonathan Chriest, incident meteorologist for the Smith River Complex.

A Level 3 (“Go Now”) evacuation remains in place from the Highway 199 area south of O’Brien to Mile Post 38 in California.

Also, U.S. Bureau of Land Management land south of O’Brien was closed down due to the Smith River Complex.

“This closure order is for the safety of the public and firefighter personnel,” said Steve Lydick, Coos Bay district manager.

A separate fire complex, the Happy Camp Complex, about 30 miles southwest of Ashland (and 30-plus miles east of the Smith River Complex), grew 1,230 acres since Friday morning and is at 17,847 acres, or close to 28 square miles. A total of 3,280 fire personnel are at the scene.

Drier fuels, direct sunlight and a higher potential for spot fires are expected to test fire lines and challenge firefighters Saturday.

“The fire has begun to back down towards the Scott River, we’ve been anticipating that for over a week,” said Scott Corn, deputy operations chief for Branch 25 of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Overnight fire crews conducted a tactical firing operation on the Elliot fire and Swillup Fire within the Happy Camp Complex, successfully removing vegetation between the fire’s edge and Highway 96. The operation was aimed at preventing the potential for fire to make a hard run toward Highway 96 and spotting across the roadway.

“The residences along Scott River Road are currently not threatened, therefore we do not have any structure protection in there,” Corn said.

Firefighters are set to shift their efforts to the northwest and west flanks of the fire after infrared imagery taken Friday night showed intense heat in those areas of the Happy Camp Complex.

“I have extreme confidence in the folks out there today,” Corn said.

A virtual public meeting regarding the Happy Camp Complex was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26 on Facebook and YouTube.

Interested parties can go to the Facebook link at

The YouTube link is

Reach reporter James Sloan at This story first appeared in the Rogue Valley Times.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at

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