ashland.news
July 14, 2024

Salt Creek Fire spectators create safety, access concerns for fire crews

Karri Stewart of White City captured a photo of motorists parked along Highway 140 to watch the Salt Creek Fire on Sunday. Karri Stewart photo
July 9, 2024

Fire District 3 division chief: ‘Let people do their job’

By Buffy Pollock, Rogue Valley Times

Spectators venturing down Highway 140 to get a look at the 3,300-acre Salt Creek Fire that sparked on Sunday are creating safety and access concerns for firefighters.

Fire District 3 Division Chief John Patterson said a steady stream of “looky-loos” who are slowing down and even parking along the highway to capture photos, video or drone footage have created added stress for fire crews dealing with rough terrain, dreadful weather conditions and limited access to the fast-moving fire, located roughly 10 miles east of Eagle Point and 19 miles north of Ashland.

The number of parked vehicles along the highway on Sunday was “really bad,” Patterson said. Monday also brought motorists standing alongside the road or even in backs of pickups trucks to get a better look at the fire.

“I think, being Sunday, everybody was home — and I guess bored — so they wanted to go see. Everybody can see it now. Just look across the valley,” Patterson said.

Early estimates put the fire size at about 1,500 acres, but the Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest Oregon District announced Tuesday that it had revised its estimate to about 3,300 acres.

Patterson, who said District 3 and ODF officials posted to social media asking motorists to stay away from the fire, said blocking roadways or slowing traffic unnecessarily can delay access to the fire and potentially hinder evacuation efforts.

“The problem with everyone driving to see it is, if they park along the shoulder to observe, or they park in the entry to another road, or in somebody’s driveway … they could affect us accessing the fire,” he said.

“We catch people turning around because, ‘OK, now I’m done getting my photos,’ so they flip a U-ey in the middle of the highway, or they start a fire on the side of the road because they’re parking like knuckleheads. … We don’t need to be messing with that while crews are trying to get to the fire. What if we need to get in front of it or beside it? We could almost need to be in any driveway or along any part of the road.”

Patterson said crews had worked hard during record-breaking temperatures and dry, windy conditions to keep the fire from spreading.

And he’d appreciate it if the looky-loos could skedaddle.

“There’s no reason to go look. There’s so much on social media now. ODF usually does a pretty good job of keeping people up on things,” he said.

“See if somebody has a picture you can see, and then share it with your friends who are saying they wanna go take a look. … Let people do their job.”

For fire updates — and photos — check the ODF Southwest Oregon District’s Facebook page, its Facebook page for Salt Creek Fire updates or the district website.

Reach reporter Buffy Pollock at 458-488-2029 or bpollock@rv-times.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal. This story first appeared in the Rogue Valley Times.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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