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96 degrees sets record

The temperature at the Medford airport rose to a scorching 96 degrees Wednesday, eclipsing the city's long-standing record high for May 14, officials at the National Weather Service in Medford said.

It's the first time ever that the city has reached the 96-degree mark on May 14, beating the day's previous record high set in 1939 by 1 degree.

Medford was the second-hottest city in Oregon on Wednesday, just shy of the 97-degree heat that blistered Roseburg. The entire region is expected to begin a cooling trend as it heads toward the weekend.

"It looks like (Wednesday) is going to be the hottest day out of this heat wave," meteorologist Misty Duncan said.

Recent high temperatures and historically low snowpack — 27 percent of normal for the Rogue Basin — prompted Gov. John Kitzhaber to declare a drought in Jackson County last week. And a declaration for fire season might not be far behind, weather officials said.

"In the grand scheme of things, it has, when you average it all out, been significantly above normal," says meteorologist Brett Lutz. "I think it increases the likelihood fire season will be declared sooner rather than later."

April 30 also saw a record broken when the high temperature soared to 92, smashing the previous record of 86 set in 1981. The heat almost made for another record on May 1, when temperatures reached 90, two ticks off the all-time 92-degree high set in 1946.

Jackson County has had periods of cooling — and sometimes rain — that followed the recent heat records, and that trend will continue this week. It will get progressively cooler the next four days, paving the way for some possible weekend rains. The forecasted highs for today, Friday and Saturday are 90, 81 and 72, respectively. On Sunday, the high is expected to drop to the mid-60s, coupled with the potential for some showers.

"A lot of it's really just the way spring goes," Lutz says.

Nearby Siskiyou County transitioned into fire season Monday; Jackson County's declaration typically is announced in early to mid-June.

"The middle of June's still a pretty good bet," says Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Brian Ballou. "It's kind of a factor of how many fires are we picking up, are we seeing a sharp upward trend? And we're not seeing that yet."

ODF crews responded to a wildland fire Monday between Prospect and Butte Falls, with flames leaping between slash piles from a recent timber harvest. The fire grew to about 12 acres before crews had it contained. Ballou says the cause remains under investigation, but that it was likely human-caused.

Either way, ODF crews are preparing for sudden fires, such as the lightning-sparked blazes in 2013 that torched a collective 95,000 acres on three major Southern Oregon complexes.

"I think we're pretty much poised to respond as we did last year, should we have a similar outbreak in 2014," Ballou says.

The 48,000-acre Douglas, 28,000-acre Big Windy, and 18,000-acre Whiskey fire complexes prompted a massive attack response from federal and state agencies. The fires roared to life in late July and threw smoke across the region. They forced the cancellation of Oregon Shakespeare Festival shows, city-sponsored programs and concerts. Guided rafting companies and lodges along the Rogue River took significant hits, forcing temporary layoffs in several cases.

"We get a year like that about every decade," Ballou says. "If we get a dry lightning storm, we could have a repeat of last summer."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

96 degrees sets record