Smith River Complex grows deeper into Josephine Co. after evening storms

JOSEPHINE COUNTY, Ore. – The Smith River Complex has grown to over 57,000 acres.

With no containment, the fire continues to spread deeper into Josephine County.

It’s also forced CalTrans to change it’s plans for Highway 199 next week.

Thunderstorms causing havoc on the north side of the Smith River Complex.

Leading to the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office to issue a Level 3 ‘Go Now’ evacuation order for Highway 199 south of Mile Post 38 to the California border.

“With the thunderstorms coming last night and the probability for lightning strikes and possible initial attack, because of those and the variable winds, there was for an abundance of caution, to raise the level of evacuations in a portion of southern Josephine county,” Northwest Incident Management Team 13 spokesperson Randall Rishe said.

The storms ramped up fire behavior, pushing the complex further into Josephine County.

The Oregon Department of Forestry even saw several small fires pop up overnight.

“We actually got about 48 lightning strikes in Josephine County alone,” ODF Southwest spokesperson Natalie Weber. “While that did come with some rain, we’re already starting to see reports of fire this morning and they’re directly tied to that thunderstorm.”

ODF Southwest is one of many fire partners working on the fire lines.

Over 1,600 personnel are now assigned to the Smith River Complex.

ODF said the fire is now burning on their protected land.

However, crews have been near the Oregon and California border helping in any way possible for almost a week.

“We’ve seen fire cross over from California into Oregon into this area before, most recently with the Slater Fire in 2020,” Weber said. “The upside to that is there was actually a lot of fire lines that we can re-open and make really quick work of making some containment lines.”

On Thursday, fire officials asked ODOT to close Highway 199 from the California border to Lone Mountain Road in O‘Brien due to fire activity. 

Northwest Incident Management Team 13 said although a closure of Highway 199 is not ideal it ultimately comes down to safety.

“When we got here to manage the fire, rocks and boulders have rolled down damaged vehicles, smashed through windshields and it was determined it was unsafe,” Rishe said. “And for that reason the road was closed to local traffic, indeed many of our traffic for firefighter safety.”

California has hoped to re-open Highway 199 on a limited basis beginning Monday.

It’s now planning to start that on Wednesday.

A Red Cross shelter has been setup at the ‘Rogue Community College Campus’ in Grants Pass.

Pets and livestock can be taken to the Josephine County Fairgrounds.

To stay up-to-date on evacuations in the Rogue Valley visit

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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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