In southern Oregon, where one of this year’s most destructive blazes swept through last week, authorities were on alert Sunday afternoon for high winds and dry conditions that could reverse the significant progress that fire and emergency crews had made over the past several days.
The National Weather Service issued a warning from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. local time on Sunday that wind gusts of up to 25 miles an hour, with humidity below 10 percent, “will likely contribute to a significant spread of new and existing fires” in the region.
In the upper Rogue Valley north of Medford, Ore., firefighters continued to battle the South Obenchain Fire, which had already burned 30,500 acres, most of it wilderness, and destroyed 26 homes, said Rich Tyler, a spokesman for the Oregon State Fire Marshal. The fire was about 20 percent contained and still threatening Butte Falls, a rural town of about 450 people, he said. Crews were in place to try to stop any spread from accelerating winds on Sunday afternoon.
About 20 miles south, crews were working to secure the burned areas from the Almeda Fire, which scorched about a tenth of the land of the South Obenchain Fire but was still perhaps this year’s most catastrophic inferno. That’s because it traveled along Interstate 5, the West Coast’s main north-south highway, from the city of Ashland, Ore., and through the small towns of Phoenix and Talent on Tuesday.
The fire was now 60 percent contained, Mr. Tyler said, but crews had to clean up hazards such as open gas lines, downed power lines and sinkholes over 40 percent of the burned area. Still, Mr. Tyler warned that the winds could reignite some flames on Sunday, though firefighters would be watching the area closely.
A hazardous-materials team entered Phoenix and Talent on Sunday to start the long clean up of the burned mobile-home parks and businesses lining Highway 99, Mr. Tyler said. Urban search-and-rescue teams from Utah and Nevada were also about to begin assessing each building in the burned area to measure the damage and search for human remains, he said.
On Saturday, authorities raised the death count of the Almeda Fire to four people from two, with one person still missing. State officials estimate that the fire destroyed 600 residences and 200 businesses in Phoenix and Talent, but local officials in those towns said the numbers were likely much higher, with possibly thousands of homes lost.