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Rains keep local flames at bay

A storm system that put fire protection agencies on high alert earlier this week rolled in with a bang, but it’s expected to leave with a whimper.

More than 1,600 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes hit Southern Oregon and northern California between Friday evening and midday Saturday, according to National Weather Service and Oregon Dept. of Forestry reports, but the strikes only sparked a "handful" of small fires.

Between Friday night and Saturday, ODF quickly extinguished two lightning-caused wildfires in the Applegate Valley, and one fire near Prospect — each fire estimated to be roughly one-hundredth of an acre when it was snuffed out.

The National Forest reported “several small fires” between Friday evening and midday Saturday that started in the Siskiyou Mountains and High Cascades ranger districts of Jackson County. None of the fires exceeded a tenth of an acre before they were extinguished.

Heavy rains helped prevent the fires from spreading, according to ODF and the National Forest.

The storm system brought roughly half an inch of rain on the ground to many parts of Southern Oregon, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Shad Keene.

Keene said the station had recorded .44 inches of rain over the past 24 hours shortly after 1 p.m. Saturday, of which about three-tenths of an inch fell overnight during the storm.

Of the 1,607 cloud-to-ground lighting strikes, 302 were in Jackson County, according to Keene.

More storms were expected late Saturday, and ODF and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest said they were staffed and ready for Red Flag fire warnings — which were expected to last through at least 10 p.m. Saturday.

“We’re focusing on fast detection, aggressive initial attack and efficient and effective use of the resources at hand,” Fire Staff Officer Eric Hensel said in a release.

By Sunday, the storm system is expected to have run its course, according to Keene.

“We’re not expecting a repeat of last night,” Keene said.

ODF says it's ready for this afternoon and evening's thunderstorms, with a team of firefighters, dispatchers, detection specialists and support staff on duty.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Oregon Dept. of Forestry photo.