Lightning, rain impact fire fight

Strikes spark multiple small blazes while wet weather slows spread

More than 10,000 lightning strikes peppered the state Friday and Saturday, igniting many small wildfires in southern and central Oregon.

Jackson County was hit by 150 lightning strikes by Saturday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. Most were in the county's northwest corner, but several were reported around Medford, with two or three touching down near Talent.

Roughly 1,800 strikes hit Jackson, Josephine, Douglas, Klamath and Siskiyou counties by Saturday night, Mike Stavish, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said.

Crews made short work of most of the new blazes, fire officials said.

A slight chance of thunderstorm activity continues today, but the low pressure system responsible for scattered lightning and rain over the past few days has started moving out of the area.

"There'll be a lingering chance of thunderstorms, but nowhere near as much as (Saturday)," said meteorologist Misty Duncan.

The northern periphery of Jackson County saw considerable amounts of rainfall Saturday, Stavish said.

Union Creek had over an inch of rain. Shady Cove and Eagle Point have fifteen-hundreths inches of rain, Stavish also said.

The Grants Pass area also received a considerable amount of rain, averaging roughly an inch of rain, as well, the National Weather Service reported.

Oregon Department of Forestry officials reported that between half an inch up to nearly an inch of rain fell Friday night and Saturday around the Big Windy Complex raging near the lower Rogue River. The fire had grown to more than 15,238 acres by Saturday. The rain helped slow the fire's spread, crews said, but it also prevented them from doing necessary burnout work to strengthen fire lines.

"It helps and it doesn't help," said Connor Seli of ODF.

More than 1,200 crew members remain on the fire, which was about 10 percent contained Saturday afternoon and as of Thursday cost $9.3 million to fight. Additional burnouts have been created on the southeast flank of the flames to prevent further spread, and crews will focus on holding the southeast and southwest lines today. A fire line is halfway done on the western flank.

During the work, a firefighter needed to be evacuated by helicopter because of a heart condition. He was taken to an area hospital, where fire officials say he is stable. His name was not available.

Rains also stifled the growth of the nearby Douglas Complex fires raging seven miles north of Glendale, which have burned about 44,450 acres and were about 32 percent contained Saturday, fire officials said. About 3,100 personnel were on that fire, officials said. As of Thursday, the cost of fighting the Douglas Complex fires totaled about $26.6 million.

Precipitation amounts ranged from two-tenths of an inch to nearly nine-tenths of an inch Friday night into Saturday morning. Like on the Big Windy, rains made burnout work difficult, despite stifling the fire's growth.

"Everything was so quiet you almost couldn't see some of the fireline," said ODF spokesman Chris Friend. "It was so wet."

Saturday's air quality was in the "moderate" range for Medford, Shady Cove, Grants Pass and Cave Junction, based on data from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The level means only those with sensitive respiratory conditions could be affected by particles in the air.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.


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