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10 new fires sparked by lightning

A barrage of Thursday-night lightning sparked 10 new fires on Oregon Department Forestry lands in southwestern Oregon. 

The National Weather Service recorded 800 air-to-ground lightning strikes in Jackson and Josephine counties, about 400 for each county.

"Basically Rogue River and west, that's where they got the most lightning," said meteorologist Shad Keene, noting there were "very few lightning strikes in the Rogue Valley." 

ODF spokesman Brian Ballou said the fires were distributed fairly evenly between Jackson and Josephine counties. So far, none of the burns had exceeded a quarter acre in size, and a majority were significantly smaller, confined in some cases to a single tree. Overnight rains, more than an inch in some areas, including outside Rogue River, near Grants Pass and in parts of the Illinois Valley, helped to temper the flames' spread. 

"Doesn't look like anything's going to get up and run away," Ballou said. "Rain cooled things down quite a lot."

The two largest fires are the quarter-acre Board Tree fire, five miles east of Wolf Creek, and the quarter-acre Cur Creek fire, seven miles northeast of Butte Falls. Two fires, each a tenth of an acre, are burning four miles northwest of Gold Hill and three miles northwest of Trail. Six fires, each about one-hundredth of an acre, are scattered north of Wimer, south of Cave Junction, north of Rogue River, and east of Stewart State Park. Several crews already have been dispatched to those fires.

Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest reported no new fires from the overnight lightning on federal forestlands, though officials will continue to monitor the forests.

In Umpqua National Forest, Thursday evening thunderstorms produced numerous lightning strikes and ignited six new wildfires, bringing to 15 the number of new fire starts in the forest since July 7. The largest fire is ¼ acre, according to a news release from forest officials.

Three of the fires were located in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness and were responded to by rappellers. Firefighting resources, including engines and smoke jumpers, were quickly responding to new starts. 

Weather service officials said thunderstorm activity will diminish this weekend, with a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms Saturday and a 15 percent chance Sunday. By Monday, the chances are practically nil, Keene said. 

Temperatures are expected to continue on a cooler trajectory. High temperatures in the mid-80s are expected for the weekend, normal for this time of year. That follows a 35-day stretch of above-average temperatures that ran from June 3 to July 6, making June 2015 the hottest one on record.

"This is new for the summer," Keene said. 

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