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Strong storm slams region

A cluster of thunderstorms pelted the Rogue Valley with hail and lightning Saturday, sending emergency crews scrambling from one wild fire to another.

The slow-moving storm system crept into Southern Oregon at around 5 p.m., bringing with it claps of thunder that rocked the area well into the evening.

Oregon Department of Forestry crews immediately were put on alert as the first reports of lightning strikes came pouring in at around 6 p.m.

"It got busy really quick for us," ODF spokesman Brian Ballou said.

ODF crews worked quickly to stop an acre-and-a-half blaze in the Kane Creek area near Gold Hill. The agency dispatched a helicopter that dropped buckets of water on the fire to keep it from spreading to wooded areas nearby.

In addition, forest fires were reported in the Panther Gulch area near Williams and at least one stream of smoke was seen coming off Roxy Ann Peak, Ballou said.

"We'll be chasing smokes into (today)," Ballou said.

The storm briefly knocked out power to 5,000 residents of north Medford and Central Point, Pacific Power spokesman Monte Mendenhall said.

"Actually, we were pretty lucky because that storm sat on us for a while and we didn't have many outages," Mendenhall said.

Homes in Prospect remained dark at 9:30 p.m. because of a downed utility line. Mendenhall said those residents should have had power restored by 10:30 p.m.

The National Weather Service is calling for more of the same today.

"The storm system from California coupled with the hot weather has destabilized things," National Weather Service meteorologist Megan Woodhead said. "The situation makes it likely that thunderstorms will develop."

Ballou welcomed the rain that pelted the Rogue Valley throughout the storm.

"A little rain can go a long way in terms of stopping wildfires," Ballou said.

Ballou said smoke from small fires were reported throughout the Applegate Valley all the way to the Howard Prairie area.

"It could be busy for us again (today)," he said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.