Lightning starts Eastern Oregon fires; more strikes expected

One of the blazes is quickly contained; others still rage

PORTLAND — Lightning bolts have touched off another round of large wildfires in Oregon, this time east of the Cascade Range, and more strikes could occur through the weekend, officials said.

A strike in Grant County touched off a fire on Wednesday that threatened 400 businesses and homes near the towns of John Day and Canyon City.

Tankers dropped fire retardant and helicopters unloaded buckets of water, and by Thursday morning, the fire was contained to 400 smoldering acres.

Another fire was burning a few miles north of John Day on what was estimated Thursday at 2,000 acres of grass and forestland. Fire center spokesman David Morman said the blaze threatened to spread to the north and east, so it wasn't an immediate threat to the city of about 1,700 people. No evacuation advisories had been issued. Lightning had struck in the middle of the fire area, but it wasn't immediately confirmed as the cause, he said.

Lightning was blamed for other Eastern Oregon fires, including one that grew to 38 square miles — more than 24,000 acres, in the thinly populated southeastern corner of the state near Jordan Valley. Two more fires of less than a square mile were reported in the grass and sagebrush region.

Officials tracking fire weather say the number of strikes isn't remarkable.

More than 1,000 were recorded statewide in a 24-hour period Wednesday and Thursday, touching off 66 known fires, but Oregon sometimes sees 3,000 strikes in a day, said Jeree Mills, a spokeswoman for the federal fire center in Portland.

However, Mills said fire weather experts see the persistence of the barrages as unusual. "They expect to get more lightning (today)," she said. "They expect more lightning Saturday."

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