GOLD HILL, Ore. – The hacking of hand tools and the distant roar of chainsaws can be heard near Gold Hill. A helicopter drops buckets of water as thick plumes of smoke fill the air.
For firefighters on the ground, it’s an easy day in the field.
“The fire wasn’t really doing a whole lot,” said ODF firefighter Mike Fillis. “It was staying in the shade, creeping, smoldering.”
Crews were able to dodge a bullet thanks to calm and favorable morning conditions, helicopters at the ready just miles away, and overall fast response time.
But Monday’s sleeper fire may be a sign that hidden fires are still lingering from lightning earlier in the month.
“The longest lightning holdover I’ve seen was 12 days,” said Fillis. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we picked up a couple more.”
The most severe strikes from these latest storms came on July 22nd, just before the one-year anniversary of the storm that ignited much of Southern Oregon last year.
But while those fires were already turning into sweeping complexes, the fires on the West side of the Cascades this year have held tight at a couple acres at the most.
It’s thanks to a combination of things that have been going right.
“Aggressive firefighting coupled with a bit of luck,” said ODF Fire Prevention Specialist Brian Ballou.
But those lucky breaks — a bit of rain alongside lightning, favorable morning conditions, and easily accessible fire starts — will likely only last so long.
And there’s a lot of dry season left.
“The extended forecast puts us well into October, maybe later for some meaningful rainfall,” said Ballou. “That’s a long way out there.”
While firefighters count their blessings for now, they say they’ll be keeping hand tools and helicopters at the ready so they can be there when luck runs out.
“As long as we get it on quick and fast, we should be able to keep them small,” said Fillis.