Structure protection underway as Smith River Complex is 300 acres in Oregon

DEL NORTE COUNTY, Calif. – The north end of the ‘Smith River Complex’, burning in Del Norte County, has reached southern Oregon.

Gusty winds pushed the largest fire of the complex, the Kelly Fire, further north, prompting ‘Northwest Incident Management Team 13’ to take action by providing structure protection.

“It’s sorta a multi-pronged approach in which to establish a safe buffer area from people’s homes and we’re doing this right now as I am speaking,” Team 13 spokesperson Randall Rishe said. “They are looking at primary and secondary containment line as well as structure groups around the Gillian Butte area.”

The Smith River Complex is now at over 47,000 acres and 0% contained.

Team 13 said the complex is roughly 300 acres into Oregon.

Level 2 ‘Be Set’ evacuations remain for southern zones in Josephine County as the fire gets closer.

In the county, over 80 structures are threatened with 200 people in the Level 2 zones.

One challenge Team 13 is facing is getting aerial operations on their side of the fire.

“Last couple of days were very difficult for our air resources due to the smoke impacts along southern Oregon with the south winds,” Rishe said. “Now that the winds are shifting a little bit, our operations are able to take a closer look.” 

But smoke is not the only thing hampering air attack.

California Incident Management Team 15 said a few days ago, a drone, forced them to cancel tanker and helicopter operations.

 “A couple of individuals got into the evacuation zone and flew a drone into the area,” Team 15 spokesperson Tom Stokesberry said. “Once they do that, we have to set our aircraft down on the ground. So that costs money, they costs time and burns valuable opportunity to get ahead of these fires.”

As the wind shifts, air operations are beginning to ramp up.

Fire officials are hoping to stop the fire from spreading westward, with the Redwoods nearby.

“That’s definitely a concern for us,” Stokesberry said. “While I wouldn’t say its impacted redwoods, I would say they’re in the vicinity but I don’t feel like they’re an imminent threat right now.”

Wednesday night at 6 p.m.  is a community meeting at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds.

It will also be livestreamed on the ‘Six Rivers National Forest’ Facebook page.

On the Oregon side, a community meeting will be held Thursday.

It takes place at 30159 Redwood Highway, in Cave Junction, starting at 6 p.m..

The meeting will also be livestreamed on the ‘Smith River Complex North 2023’ Facebook page.

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NBC5 News reporter Zachary Larsen grew up in Surprise, Arizona. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. At ASU, Zack interned at Arizona Sports 98.7FM and Softball America. During his Junior year, Zack joined the ASU Sports Bureau. He covered the Fiesta Bowl, the Phoenix Open and major basketball tournaments. Zack enjoys working out, creative writing, music, and rooting for his ASU Sun Devils.
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