ASHLAND, Oregon — Oregon residents in a community near Ashland were told Thursday evening to leave their homes immediately as a wildfire spread rapidly across grassland in southwest Oregon and lightning sparked two new large fires.
The growth of the Oregon Gulch fire forced the Jackson County sheriff's office to issue an evacuation notice. The fire burned about 3,000 acres in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument on Thursday evening, said Brian Ballou, a spokesman with the state Department of Forestry.
The lightning-sparked fire was reported at about 100 acres earlier in the day. It grew significantly through the day, fueled by swirling winds and extremely dry conditions, Ballou said.
Ballou said he wasn't sure how many people live in the sparsely-populated ranching area, but he estimated it could be a few dozen people.
"Everybody is evacuating," Tracie Gibson, a resident at Fall Creek Ranch, told the Mail Tribune.
Lightning sparked two new large wildfires in the southwest and central parts of the state. The Beaver Complex, which includes the Oregon Gulch fire, is burning about 20 miles northwest of Medford. The Haystack Complex is burning about 9 miles northwest of Kimberly in central Oregon.
At the regional fire center in Portland, spokeswoman Carol Connolly said Thursday morning that more than 40 small fires were reported in the previous 24 hours. Nearly 500,000 acres — about 780 square miles — are burning in the state.
Hot weather remains in the forecast, and officials expect lightning and thunderstorms to ignite more new fires.