Gold Hill Oregon Wildfire Aug 18 2011, Up Close and Personal

We stayed overnight at Valley of the Rogue State Park (southern Oregon) during our transit from Portland to Sacramento, and we not only got a terrific pull-through RV spot without a reservation, we ended up with a front-row seat to a wildfire that broke out in the late afternoon. We had returned from picking wild blackberries along the banks of the Rogue River when we noticed a crowd gathering on the road into the campground. By the way, the berries made a scrumptious blackberry crunch!

About 6 quarts of wild blackberries

The campground is immediately adjacent to I-5, and we heard from the camp host that the fire started alongside the interstate about 2 miles north of us. Although we couldn’t see the flames at the start, that soon changed. Here is a shot of the start.   

At first it was only an impressive column of smoke

It progressed very quickly, climbing the back of the ridge that was behind the ridge in front of us. It was impressive to see the flames roar over the crest of the ridge, especially when a large fir tree would explode as the flames reached it.  

The fire very quickly crested the first (farthest away) ridge

 The locals threw everything they had on hand at the fire since it was immediately next to a major interstate, and also just “across the street” from a heavily populated state park campground (us). They used a large DC-6 Air Tanker to drop water. 

The DC-6 fire fighting tanker came very close overhead

The fire fighting tanker drops below the close ridge

 They also used several helicopters to dip water out of the river and drop onto hot spots. Watch the video here. For all their efforts, however, they couldn’t keep the fire from burning through the canyon and eventually jumping the ridge directly in front of us. 

The fire jumps the second (closest) ridge

I had a front row seat as the fire burned down the slope toward the freeway. 

Warren watching the fire progress down the slope

 As the fire progressed toward the freeway, which thank God formed a natural firebreak for us, the wind shifted and filled the campground with smoke. 

Our smoke-filled campground

At that time we also took on a lot of ash fallout. This picture is of an ash that landed in our campsite. If you look close, it’s a complete burned whole oak leaf. 

A full oak leaf ash from the fire

While the fire burned, the campground was under only a voluntary evacuation, and about half of the campers in the totally full park did exactly that. About an hour after most of them had left, the wind shifted again and completely cleared out the smoke and ash. The fire marshall never did order the evacuation, and we got a very good and quiet night’s sleep. The camp host reported that 6 fires had started at the edge of the interstate and that arson was immediately suspected. It’s a shame what some people will do. We were glad to see that the helicopter water drops were able to save the 3 houses and travel trailer we could see on the slope across the freeway. The only property loss we observed was a car or truck that caught fire and exploded in a spectacular boom when the gas tank blew up.

And, as always, here’s Tippy!

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About W&W Mudd

Once retired from high tech and education, Wendy and Warren now retired from fulltime RV-ing and have taken the leap to boating. Oh yeah, and then there's that un-retired and managing Peoples Storage in Kenmore WA thing.
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One Response to Gold Hill Oregon Wildfire Aug 18 2011, Up Close and Personal

  1. Elaine Lasnik-Broida says:

    amazing photos and experience – almost too close for comfort!

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