Hundreds of lightning strikes peppered Southern Oregon Tuesday night and Wednesday, kindling multiple small fires in northeast Jackson County.
By Wednesday afternoon, Oregon Department of Forestry crews had responded to 18 fires between Prospect and Trail. Crews prevented a majority of the blazes from spreading beyond an acre.
Find stories, photos, maps and links on the Southern Oregon wildfires at www.mailtribune.com/fires
"Nothing has gotten away yet," said ODF spokesman Brian Ballou.
Strikes were reported in Shady Cove, Prospect, near Crater Lake, in western Klamath County and Northern California.
The Oregon Department of Forestry reported one of the new fires grew to about four acres Tuesday. Units from ODF and the Butte Falls Fire Department responded to the fire, reported just before 2 a.m. in the 2300 block of Cobleigh Road near Butte Falls. The blaze drew two engines and about 15 firefighters. No structures were threatened.
Most of the smaller fires sparked to life in difficult-to-reach spots. Helicopter crews did a lot of the work, extinguishing the flames with drops from water buckets.
"We aggressively hit these things whether we've got other fires in the area or not," said ODF spokesman Brian Ballou. "The helicopters were really getting a lot of flying time."
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning Wednesday — expected to last through 11 p.m. Friday — because of the likelihood of additional thunderstorms that could spark more fires. The warning means "critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now or will shortly," according to the release.
"As the week wears on, these storms are expected to become more wet," said meteorologist Misty Duncan.
The increase in moisture could mean good news for firefighters and Rogue Valley residents if it thins the smoke and helps quench the area's wildfires. But additional lightning strikes are also possible.
"We'll just have to take the good with the bad and hope for the best," Duncan said.
The National Weather Service reported that less than half an inch of rain fell in the Rogue Valley during a brief storm that moved through the area Wednesday afternoon.
The most significant amount fell in Ruch, which saw nearly a half-inch hit the ground in around 10 minutes, according to meteorologist Sven Nelaimischkies.
"We basically had widespread light rain that did not bring very many lightning strikes, so that was a good thing all around," Nelaimischkies said.
Several fires sparked by lightning last month put Medford's air quality back in the red Wednesday. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's air quality index stayed in the "unhealthy" range for Medford through the day Wednesday. Shady Cove and the surrounding area also experienced unhealthy levels, while the air quality in Grants Pass dropped to "hazardous" by Wednesday afternoon, meaning even healthy individuals could be affected by breathing the air.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or email@example.com.