Milepost 97 Fire

Sheep on the Matthew and Mary Brady ranch near Azalea, Ore., graze on irrigated pasture despite a nearby wildfire and smoke in the air. The Milepost 97 wildfire had expanded to more than 12,336 acres as of Tuesday.

ROSEBURG, Ore. — Neighboring ranchers Matthew Brady and Harold Terry have moved their livestock to green pastures as a wildfire advances through the area.

Their Azalea, Ore., area ranches are only 1 to 1.5 miles from the Milepost 97 fire that started Sunday evening, apparently by an illegal campfire. The fire has spread south through rough terrain, burning more than 12,336 acres.

Both ranches and other neighbors are under a Level 2 notice, informing them to be ready to evacuate if the fire approaches.

Brady, who is the Douglas County Farm Bureau president, and Terry have moved their sheep and cattle off dry grass and to irrigated pasture.

“I’m not concerned about needing to evacuate them at all,” Brady said of his 75 ewes, lambs and rams. “They’re surrounded by green. If the fire gets here, it’ll burn the dry grass up to the green pasture and then die out.”

Brady said, however, that he had intended to put his pregnant ewes on the irrigated pasture later in the year, but now the sheep are eating through that forage quickly.

“Grass will grow back,” he said. “You just re-seed and let it grow, but losing timber that takes a lot of time and effort to grow is kind of disquieting.”

Brady added that there is plenty of defensive space around his house and barn.

Terry said it was “touch-and-go for a few days,” since the fire expanded and advanced so quickly. He received several offers of trucks and trailers and places to relocate his 40 head of cattle if he had decided to move the animals out of the fire’s path. He said he’s optimistic now that the fire won’t reach his property since the firefighters and their equipment have had a chance to cut a fire break in the last couple of days.

Terry’s cattle are now on 90 acres of partially irrigated pasture that has only a few trees on it.

“I’m providing them with lots of fresh water, feeding them a little hay right now and some minerals in addition to the blocks,” he said. “It’s basically been snowing ash on us. So far the livestock are hanging in there pretty good.”

Kyle Reed, a spokesman for the Douglas Forest Protective Association, said he has heard of a couple of horses that have been relocated to safer areas, but no other livestock moves.

As of Tuesday, the wildfire was only 15% contained, according to the daily update from the management team. There are 51 hand crews of 20 people each working the fire lines along with 41 engines, 47 bulldozers and 22 water tenders.

When sky and smoke conditions allow, there are 13 helicopters, 5 single engine air tankers and a larger air tanker available to drop water and fire retardant.

About 10 miles south of the fire in the Glendale, Ore., area, the Owens family has 100 cow-calf pairs on irrigated pasture. Andy Owens said the ranch has its dozers fueled up and ready to go if the fire advances and additional fire breaks need to be cut.

Skinner Hardy, who ran several hundred cattle on his Azalea area ranch until this year, said he was thankful he didn’t have any cattle during the first two days of the fire, as it advanced so quickly.

“We feel fortunate and blessed that last night (Monday) it didn’t advance much,” he said. “There was a high dew point this morning and that helped the firefighters.”

Jerry Cuff, who has cattle and a field of hemp in the Glendale area, said his property is 3 miles from the fire line. He has green pasture he can move his cattle to if needed.

He added it’ll be a learning experience to see how the young hemp plants react to the falling ash. It’s expected the growth of hemp or any pasture grass will be slowed by the ash and smoke that are blocking the sun and blue sky.

“I’m out of the worry business,” Cuff said. “I’m 75 now and whatever happens, happens. I’m not too worried.”

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