MEDFORD, Ore. — Fire crews were kept busy over the weekend after a series of thunderstorms peppered southern Oregon with hundreds of lightning strikes, sparking dozens of confirmed fires and leaving the potential for more to emerge over time.
Officials with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest said that there were about 700 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes throughout the region on Sunday, landing both within the federal forest and on the state, county, and private lands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry.
RRSNF said that it responded to 16 fires within the national forest in tandem with ODF and the Coos Forest Protective Association. The largest priority was the Bear Camp Fire, which they hit with a Type 2 Initial Attack Crew and two engines. Crews were able to build a handline around the 4 or 5-acre fire, and about 40 percent of the fire has hose line around it. Firefighters remain on the scene, working toward containment.
Crews from ODF responded to about 50 separate fires in the wake of those thunderstorms, working through the night to find and extinguish the reported starts. Of those fires, 35 were confirmed to be active. The agency said that 20 have been extinguished, 15 are in various stages of response, but the majority are fully lined and in the mop-up stage.
Because of the quick response, the Bear Camp Fire remains the largest fire in the region. The smaller Buck Rock Fire north of Trail is considered 30 percent lined and 5 percent contained. The Gap Fire within the Ashland Watershed has been kept at one-tenth of an acre after an aggressive attack on Sunday. Ashland officials say that it has been lined and extinguished.
Natalie Weber, the spokesperson for Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest District said, "The first one that came it was the North Fork Anderson Creek Fire, and that one was probably the largest that we had for a while. We sent a number of engines as well as a water tender and resources from district 5 to that one. And then the Buck Rock Fire broke out after that, north of Trail and we sent out about the same amount of resources to that."
Despite the sheer number of fires discovered, no homes are currently considered threatened.
For both agencies, the priority now is reconnaissance. Aircraft crews are flying over southern Oregon to look for any new signs of smoke. ODF warned that more fires will likely emerge as temperatures heat up Monday and throughout the week.
“After a storm like this, it’s important to quickly and efficiently suppress these fires when they’re small, not only to protect our communities, but to free up firefighting resources to provide aggressive initial attack on the next fire,” said Dan Quinones, Fire Staff Officer for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
RRSNF said that a cold front is in the forecast, and it will bring no rain, low humidity, and a Haines Index of 5-6 — indicating a high potential for erratic fire behavior and growth.
"This forecast is concerning to firefighters as holdover lightning fires can be found days and weeks after the storm passes," the agency said.