Residents discover Sterling Creek Fire, attempt to contain it

APPLEGATE VALLEY, Ore.– Over 1,000 lighting strikes hit Jackson and Josephine County on Sunday causing dozens of fires to flare up.

While firefighters work across the region dealing with what is being called the Wagner Creek Complex in Jackson County and the Garner Complex in Josephine County, some residents near the Sterling Creek Fire in the Applegate Valley ran straight to the action to protect their properties.

“I would argue that anybody in my position would do the same thing when you feel like your personal property is at risk,” said Bryan Shelander.

Starting off as a few small acres, the Sterling Creek Fire has grown to become one of the larger fires in the Wagner Creek and Garner Complex fires, covering around 100 acres of private land. But if it wasn’t for Shelander’s quick observations, the fire might have been a lot worse.

“I was, out of curiosity, looking online at some lighting strike maps and one indicated there was a strike in our area.”

Shelander drove up to the nearest hill from his house on Sterling Creek Road and tried to spot any signs of smoke.

“I saw a dead snag that had some smoke appear to be billowing out of it,” he said.

As his suspicions were confirmed, Shelander and a couple of his neighbors hiked up the hill where the smoke was rising from and found that it was much bigger than previously thought.

“By the time we actually got up there on foot,” said Shelander. “It was approximately three acres.”

Kyle Gossman, another resident who later joined Shelander to fight the fire described how erratic it’s spread was.

“Whichever way the wind blew it was just carrying it that way,” said Gossman. “So it ended up taking it way up the hill first and then it pushed it back down the hill and within a couple hours it was close enough to our property.”

Jumping into action, Shelander, Gossman, one other neighbor and two Applegate Valley Fire District firefighters quickly worked to control the fire.

“It’s more of an instinct than a reaction,” said Shelander. “I’m not a trained firefighter but I just watched the real pros and tried to do it how they did it.”

“We started trying to dig a trench around it but by that point it was already too big and then it was just calling in helicopters and whatever air support,” said Gossman.

Luckily, support did arrive in the form of more fire crews and eventually helicopters and air tankers who all worked together through the night to build a line between homes and the fire. Crews even built an improvised road through the hills in an attempt to get closer to the fires.

However, as a precaution to residents in the area, Level 3 “Go” evacuation notices were still sent out on Sunday to residences from the 7400 – 9400 blocks of Sterling Creek Road. Those evacuation notices have since been reduced to Level 1 “Ready” as of Monday morning.

For Shelander and the others, they say all they were doing was trying protect their livelihoods. It’s the firefighters who deserve the praise.

“They’re doing an incredible job,” said Gossman. “That’s an immense amount of work and hundred degree temperatures doesn’t make it easier.”

The fire currently has no estimated level of containment. There is a 55% perimeter containment line set around the fire as of Monday morning and ODF believes it will begin to see containment levels appear in the next couple days.

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