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New fires pop up after weekend storms

Intense lightning over the weekend continues to keep fire crews on the lookout for new blazes.

With thousands of lightning strikes across the region Saturday and Sunday, fires were sparked on state and private land, national forests, Crater Lake National Park and even in a Medford garage.

Five new forest fires were discovered Monday, two by Oregon Department of Forestry crews east of Evans Creek and one near Antioch Road, and two by Forest Service spotters in the Cascades.

In all, ODF reported 25 fires, the Forest Service reported 44 fires and the National Park Service found 14 fires in Crater Lake National Park.

The Medford Fire Department reported a garage fire in the 3200 block of Ford Drive after lightning struck a water heater vent on the roof early Sunday.

All fire lookouts are staffed and daily reconnaissance flights to check for wisps of wildland smoke are planned in the coming days, officials said.

"We expect more to pop up," ODF spokesman Brian Ballou said.

The largest fire the forestry department battled here Monday was the Forest Creek Road fire on Mount Isabelle between Jacksonville and Ruch, Ballou said. It grew to 8 acres Monday afternoon.

In local forests, the largest fire under attack Monday was the 25-acre Golden Stairs fire in steep terrain in the High Cascades Ranger District northwest of Union Creek.

"That's the problem child so far," said Paul Galloway, public information officer for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Ground crews were working on the blaze with help from an air tanker that delivered several loads of fire retardant.

Galloway said crews had about half of the 44 reported fires under control by Monday afternoon. Crews were still working to access some small, remote fires.

All the reported fires in Crater Lake National Park were out by Monday morning. Heavy rains, which helped douse flames, caused mud slides that blocked roads by park headquarters in Munson Valley on Sunday and along the Dutton Cliffs area on the east rim through noon Monday, said park spokesman Michael Justin.

A strike early Sunday ignited a garage fire in northeast Medford. Neighbors reported seeing flames in a garage in the 3200 block of Ford Drive.

Thunder and lightning rattled the neighborhood at about 12:24 a.m. No one was home at the address.

Firefighters found a blaze near the front wall of the garage between a furnace and water heater. They extinguished the fire before it spread to a ski boat with a 40-gallon gas tank onboard, limiting the damage to about $10,000, said lead investigator Randy Cooper.

He said lightning struck a metal vent on the roof, traveled to the water heater, along a gas line and into the ground near the gas meter. A streetlight across the street also was struck.

The lightning's energy blew apart fittings on the gas line serving the water heater and sent molten metal onto a golf bag and other combustibles, which burst into flames, Cooper said.

He said the conditions in the garage had somehow prevented the ignition of the natural gas.

"It's sort of a mystery," he said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.