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Lightning sparks fires around county

Lightning strikes throughout the weekend sent wildlands fire crews scurrying Sunday to douse at least a dozen hot spots throughout Jackson County.

"It was a real shotgun blast," Brian Ballou, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said of storms that raked the area Saturday. "Every hour we're picking up reports of smoke."

So far none of the fires have amounted to much, though officials worry about the potential for "sleepers," or smoldering piles of forest debris that can take days or weeks to flare up again.

"Being as it's fairly early in the year, the danger of a big one popping up is fairly low," said Ballou.

Local fire officials said they didn't see any evidence of additional fires started by another round of lightning strikes that pummeled the valley Sunday.

Fire conditions should improve as a cooling trend sets in, though more thunderstorms and more rain are expected throughout the week.

The largest of the reported fires was initially thought to have consumed 10 acres of trees and brush near Bishop Creek, about 1.5 miles southeast of Ruch. But Ballou said the number of acres was downgraded to five on Sunday, with the fire completely contained.

A quick-thinking landowner in the Butte Falls area pushed smoldering brush into a pile with a bulldozer and fire crews went in later to douse it with water, said Ballou.

Reports of fires also came from Gold Hill, Lost Creek Reservoir and Sam's Valley.

Ballou said some areas received a lot of rain from the thunderstorm, while others didn't get a drop.

On Sunday, forestry officials sent a reconnaissance aircraft over the county to check for plumes of smoke that often can be elusive to track down.

"Sometimes they put up a puff of smoke just twice a day." said Ballou.

Half of the reports of fires come from the public and are sometimes hard to locate.

Fire crews were heading into a remote area off Little Butte Creek to locate the source of a fire that is sending out occasional clouds of smoke.

Even though weather conditions are better than in the summer months, Ballou said it will still take several days to locate all the fires.

Mike Stavish, metereologist with the National Weather Service in Medford, said temperatures should continue to cool through the week, but the threat of thunderstorms would persist as a low-pressure system slowly moves onshore.

"We had a couple of days in the 90's , but by and large over the next couple of days we will see a cooling trend," he said. "In addition, the cloud cover is on the increase."

By the end of the week, temperatures will be in the high 70's in the valley and the weather service expects the region to stay on the moist side.

"At some point in time, more significant rain will start falling," Stavish predicted.