Lightning strikes put fire crews to the test

Emergency responders spread out Sunday across the Rogue Valley fighting fires in Medford, Talent, Gold Hill and Trail — as thunderstorms began making their presence felt in Southern Oregon.

The largest of the fires still being fought as evening fell was in the Elk Creek Road area of Trail, according to Brian Ballou, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Ballou said the blaze, likely caused by a lightning strike shortly after 4 p.m., was about 3 acres in a densely wooded area that forced crews to hike to reach the area.

In all, lightning likely was the cause of the five small fires in the Elk Creek Road area. The other four fires were less than 1-acre and also were being fought at press time.

"I don't know how long it's going to take them. They can't drive to most of these," Ballou said. "It's good, old-fashioned firefighting. It's going to take a little bit."

Likely visible to those who live in Trail or travel nearby, the fires are far from any well-populated areas, Ballou said.

ODF workers also were fighting two fires on Wagner Creek Road likely caused by lightning strikes Sunday afternoon. These fires were only about a 10th of an acre in size, Ballou said.

"We have a two-man crew out there trying to get a route established into both of those and a fire line around them," said Ballou.

According to the National Weather Service, scattered thunderstorms Sunday afternoon were felt primarily in Ashland, Klamath Falls and Grants Pass.

They are predicted to move into the Medford area today before dissipating Tuesday.

"What we have was a low that wanted to visit California instead of visiting Nevada, so it back tracked within the state yesterday," said Meteorologist Brian Nieuwenhuis of the National Weather Service office in Medford.

"It's almost like a monsoonal type weather pattern," he said. "It pushes the moisture up from the south, and that's what we're experiencing now."

According to Nieuwenhuis, there were several lightning strikes in Cave Junction and in a large area of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Nieuwenhuis predicts scattered thunderstorms to continue through Tuesday, associated with systems that could produce heavy rain.

Earlier in the afternoon Sunday, Fire District 3 and Medford Fire responded to grass fires in Gold Hill and Medford.

The first of which was reported at 2:20 p.m., on the 1800 block of McDonough Road in Gold Hill. According to Battalion Chief Greg Winfrey of Fire District No. 3, this was caused by a man burning debris.

The fire only spread to an area of about 10-feet by 10-feet and burned part of a tree. Crews took less than two minutes to get it under control.

"We spent most of the day mopping it up. Make sure you have a clear area around where you're burning and pay attention to winds," Winfrey cautioned.

At 2:37 p.m., the Medford Fire Department responded to a grass fire on the 1800 block of Hidden Village Place in Medford.

Battalion Chief Erin Sawall described it as a small little fire in the middle of a hay field that was caused by mowing equipment. The fire burned only a quarter of an acre and crews had it under control within 5 minutes of arrival.

"Be cautious while mowing dry grass," Sawall said.

Mail Tribune reporter Mandy Valencia can be reached at 541-776-4486 or

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