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Chetco Bar Fire Burning Near Brookings Approaches 'Megafire' Status

<p>The Chetco Bar Fire is seen burning on Aug. 17, 2017, at 9 p.m.&nbsp;</p>



The Chetco Bar Fire is seen burning on Aug. 17, 2017, at 9 p.m. 

 The National Interagency Fire Center has now labeled the Chetco Bar Fire burning in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest near Brookings, Oregon, the "top priority fire" in the country.

The fire is burning 99,944 acres, approaching designation as a 'megafire' -- defined by the The National Interagency Fire Center as a fire burning at least 100,000 acres. The fire is 0 percent contained.

Firefighting resources are thin nationwide, and the "top priority" designation gives fire officials a better chance of getting the additional resources they need when they ask for it.

More than 1,000 personnel were battling the blaze as of Wednesday morning.

Officials expect only minimal growth Wednesday thanks to favorable weather conditions, though it is still burning about 5.2 miles northeast of Brookings.

The blaze is delaying the start of the school year for students and teachers at the Brookings-Harbor School District. A large number of district employees and student families have been displaced due to mandatory evacuations. Athletics and activities are canceled until further notice.

Five structures have burned and a level 3 mandatory evacuation order is still in place for 3,400 residential homes and outbuildings, affecting anywhere between 3,000 to 4,000 residents.

Residents who live in the area starting at Cape Ferrello Road and Carpenterville Road north to Pistol River and east and west off Carpenterville Road will be allowed to return to their homes. They're still being asked to remain prepared in case they need to leave again.

An evacuation center has been set up at Riley Elementary School in Gold Beach, Oregon. As of Monday night, 50 people were at the shelter. It can accommodate 120 people.

The shelter provides hot meals, snacks, water, blankets, sleeping accommodations and shower facilities. The Red Cross is partnering with local agencies to accommodate pets and livestock.

At a community meeting held at Azalea Middle School Monday, residents wanted to know when they might be able to return to their homes.

"It's still not safe because there's no containment on this fire," said Mark Regan, a public information officer with the incident management team. "The fire spread from 5,000 acres to 98,000 acres in a matter of six days."

Watch: Aerial footage of the Chetco Bar Fire region before the burn.

Fire officials are hoping to take advantage of a cooler weather pattern in the next three days.

Smoke and fog from the wildfire prevented aircraft from working on the fire. It also obstructed the view of Monday's Great American Eclipse.

"We didn't even know the eclipse was happening," said Regan. "It was already dark here and we weren't able to see anything."

Regan says Brookings is a big fishing and lumber community that relies on tourism.

"With the smoke and firefighters coming into the community it's a big impact to them," said Regan. "We understand that and our goal to have this fire suppressed as quickly as possible."

Residents with caged animals can call 541-425-1821 for more information on how to accommodate their livestock.

This story has been updated.

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Ericka Cruz Guevarra