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Thunderstorms may bring more fires, weather service warns

Weather officials are warning that another round of wildfire starts could be on the way to Southern Oregon and Northern California because  of bone-dry terrain and inbound lightning storms.

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning, which is in effect until 11 p.m. tonight. The warning covers the eastern Rogue Valley, western Rogue Basin (including the Illinois Valley), Siskiyou Mountains, the Southern Oregon Cascades, Klamath Basin and Fremont-Winema National Forest.

There are chances for thunderstorms through Wednesday. Today's activity is expected to increase this afternoon and evening.

A message issued by the weather service says there is little chance for precipitation but there likely will be winds with gusts of up to 50 mph, meaning there could be "explosive" wildfire growth ahead.

"Multiple lightning strikes on dry, drought-stricken vegetation will lead to multiple fire starts that will have the potential to overwhelm initial attack resources," the message reads. 

The 35,000-plus acre Oregon Gulch fire, sparked by lightning July 30 on the eastern edge of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, is 74 percent contained and 100 percent lined, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. The fire found momentum in the few days following its initial flare-up and sprinted east into Klamath County and south into Northern California. The flames destroyed six homes and drew thousands of firefighters to the front lines. All evacuation advisories for residents living near the fire have since been lifted.

Smoke from still-burning lightning fires on Klamath National Forest lands in Siskiyou County continues to drift into the Rogue Valley intermittently. The Beaver fire, burning north of Highway 96 near the Klamath River, has grown to more than 24,800 acres since flaring up July 30. Crews had that blaze 30 percent contained Monday, according to the Incident Information System website. The 15,000-acre July Complex, located four miles east of Sawyers Bar, was also at 30 percent containment, fire officials said.

The smoke has affected area air quality. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality website showed Medford and Grants Pass reporting moderate air quality Monday, and the Williams area reporting air quality that is unsafe for sensitive groups.

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