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Lightning sparks dozens of Southern Oregon fires

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Lightning storms Sunday sparked dozens of fires in Jackson and Josephine counties. [Photo courtesy of Oregon Department of Forestry]
Fires erupt outside Ashland, Talent

Thunderstorms that swept across southwest Oregon Sunday afternoon and night sparked about 66 fires, including in the Ashland Watershed in the mountains above Ashland and on Anderson Butte outside Talent.

The area received approximately 700 cloud-to-ground strikes, according to Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest officials.

The Forest Service reported 16 fires on its land Monday, while the Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest Oregon District reported about 50 fires on land it protects, which includes private land and U.S. Bureau of Land Management property in Jackson and Josephine counties.

Firefighters, dispatchers and detection specialists worked throughout the night between Sunday and Monday to locate and extinguish fires, ODF said.

For the next several days, the National Weather Service is predicting no more thunderstorms.

However, undetected holdover lightning-caused fires can be found days and weeks after a storm passes, Forest Service officials said.

The Forest Service is prioritizing aerial reconnaissance Monday as the fight against fires continues.

“After a storm like this, it’s important to quickly and efficiently suppress these fires when they’re small, not only to protect our communities, but to free up firefighting resources to provide aggressive initial attack on the next fire,” said Dan Quinones, fire staff officer for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

ODF also sent out a reconnaissance flight Monday morning to fly over known fires and look for new signs of smoke. Officials warned more fires will likely emerge Monday as temperatures heat up during the day.

Of 50 fires reported Sunday and Monday on ODF-protected land, 35 were confirmed as active. Of those 35, 20 had been put out as of Monday morning and firefighters were still responding to 15. Most were 100% lined and in mop-up operations, ODF said.

To report smoke that appears to be coming from a fire, call 911, ODF advised.

ODF is asking the public not to call 911 dispatchers to ask where smoky haze in the area is coming from. Local fires are generating smoke, and more smoke is coming into Southern Oregon from Northern California fires, ODF officials said Monday afternoon.

For updates on air quality levels in Oregon, see oraqi.deq.state.or.us/home/map.

Forest Service officials reported the Gap fire in the Ashland Watershed was at one-tenth of an acre as of Monday morning. An aggressive firefight on Sunday included four rappellers, a Type 1 helicopter, a large air tanker, two engines and two initial attack crews. Fifty firefighters joined the initial attack, and firefighters remained on-scene Monday.

On ODF-protected land, the 3.5-acre North Fork Anderson Creek fire on Anderson Butte outside Talent was 100% lined and 5% contained, ODF reported Monday morning.

Firefighters assigned to the North Fork Anderson Butte fire outside Talent descend a trail. Photo courtesy Oregon Department of Forestry

The Buck Rock fire, 5 miles north of Trail, was 30% lined and 5% contained, ODF said Monday morning.

In Josephine County, ODF and the Forest Service joined forces to battle the 4-5 acre Bear Camp Road fire northwest of Grants Pass. The fire is burning on Forest Service land near property under ODF protection, ODF said Monday morning.

ODF officials said they brought on private contracted resources to bolster firefighters, tree fallers and water tenders on active fires. The additional resources will help free up ODF resources to respond to new fire starts as they are discovered in the aftermath of the lightning strikes.

A lightning-sparked fire engulfs a tree. Photo courtesy of Oregon Department of Forestry.

The Sunday wave of lightning-sparked fires followed thunderstorms Thursday and Friday that also caused fires.

The largest fires in the region remain the Jack fire east of Roseburg, which was at 23,002 acres Monday morning, and the 413,762-acre Bootleg fire northeast of Klamath Falls. The Jack fire was 76% contained, while the Bootleg fire was 84% contained.

For the Medford area, the National Weather Service forecasts highs of 102 degrees Monday, 101 degrees Tuesday and 99 degrees Wednesday. High temperatures will dip into the upper 80s through Saturday, then rise to 92 Sunday.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.