MEDFORD, Ore. — Thunderstorms are in the forecast this week, and forestry officials across southern Oregon are bracing for the potential of lightning-sparked fires and winds that could become the catalyst for spread amid unseasonably dry conditions.
The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest said that it's ready for an aggressive initial attack on any new wildfire starts.
“We have a phased approach in place for predicted events that we’ll use to ensure adequate staffing. Our forest is ready to host those assets whether that be at the ranger district level, or in a centralized hub at the staging area for forest-wide distribution. Our intent is for quick detection, aggressive initial attack and efficient use of the resources we have,” said Acting Fire Staff Officer Dan Quinones.
Resources on hand include 16 engines, a Type 3 dozer, two 10-person crews, a Type 1 water tender, air attack and fixed-wing recon platforms, staffed lookouts, and support from the Rogue Valley Interagency Communications Center and the Medford Air Tanker Base.
If any of the fires get beyond initial attack, RRSNF said that J. Herbert Stone Nursery is prepared to serve as a staging area for reinforcements. Smokejumpers, single-engine air tankers, and large airtankers are available to be brought in from central Oregon.
According to the Oregon State Fire Marshal, the central Oregon location is no coincidence. The state has been staging resources here so that they are prepared to head wherever the fires are worst.
“We know the conditions across the state are dry, and with thunderstorms in the forecast, even the smallest spark could trigger a wildfire, that is why we are prepositioning these resources,” Oregon State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple said. “We can’t control the weather, but we can plan for what we can control, and that is strategically placing resources ahead of this weather event.”
The threat of thunderstorms is especially high east of the Cascades and into Klamath County, where firefighters were already battling the Cutoff Fire and now the Pool Fire.
StormWatch 12's forecast on Monday predicts that these storms will materialize in the afternoon and evening, particularly in northern Klamath County. Moreover, some of the early lightning events may come without precipitation, increasing the risk of fire starts in the extremely dry condition.
During the summer of 2018, thousands of lightning strikes from a dry storm sparked more than 100 separate fires across the region. Some of those fires grew to cover tens or hundreds of thousands of acres in Josephine and Jackson counties.