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Rain quells fire danger from lightning strikes

Saturday evening storm dropped more than an inch in some areas

Lightning strikes accompanied by heavy rain in parts of Jackson County made for a dramatic — but short — show Saturday evening without any significant fire starts Sunday.

“The good news is the lightning came with quite a bit of rain, and we’re gonna see some cooler temperatures,” said Brad Schaaf, meteorologist at the National Weather Service Medford forecast office.

“All things considered, you can’t really ask for a better Fourth of July forecast, as far as fire weather is concerned.”

Some milder thunderstorm activity and lighter precipitation was expected later Sunday afternoon and evening, said Schaaf. But temperatures 10 degrees cooler than typical for July 3 are calming the storm system as it moves to the northeast and into Central Oregon, he said.

“We could see another round of showers and maybe another thunderstorm again (Sunday).”

Public works crews in Medford were responding Sunday morning to reports of trees and power lines down, said Sean Schmidt, Medford Fire battalion chief. But calls at the height of the storm for fire alarms sounding and downed power lines didn’t amount to much for fire crews, said Schmidt, although scatted power and internet outages were reported Saturday.

Numerous small fire starts around Ashland kept crews with Ashland Fire & Rescue, Jackson County Fire District No. 5 and Oregon Department of Forestry busy. They finished mopping up the last reported lightning-caused fire around midnight Sunday, according to District 5’s Facebook page.

A fire called the Y Creek Fire, on Mount Ashland to the north of Mount Ashland Ski Road, was doused by Colestin Rural Fire District and CAL FIRE Siskiyou Unit, ODF reported. The fire was contained to a single tree that firefighters cut down to extinguish.

Another fire was also contained to a single tree east of Valley View Road. Following minimal spread, Jackson County Fire District 5 and ODF caught it at 1/100th of an acre, and it was completely lined and mopped up by Sunday morning.

ODF planned reconnaissance flights Sunday morning and afternoon to look for any additional fires, according to District 5.

ODF looked for — but was unable to locate amid heavy rain — a fire reported near Pilot Rock Saturday evening, according to the Southwest Oregon District’s Facebook page. Crews mopped up a three-quarter-acre blaze off Dead Indian Memorial Road that a logging company extinguished prior to ODF’s arrival on scene, fire officials said. The “significant amount of rain” aided ODF efforts, the agency said.

Rainfall averaged about an inch in southern and eastern areas of the county, said Schaaf. Community collaborators with the weather service reported half an inch of rain in Ashland and Phoenix while others reported nearly an inch in Talent and more than an inch in east Medford, said Schaaf. The weather service’s gauge at the Medford airport recorded virtually no measurable rainfall, he added.

“That’s the nature of thunderstorms where one part of town can get completely drenched, and another part of town can get absolutely nothing,” said Schaaf.

And while water rose in gutters and crested over curbs in some spots, the weather service did not issue any warnings for what Schaaf described as “nuisance flooding” that doesn’t threaten life and property.

In east Medford, rain briefly inundated the emergency department ramp and west entrance at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, said spokeswoman Lauren Van Sickle. But hospital business continued as usual.

The weather service recorded 163 lightning strikes within an approximately 12-hour period Saturday, said Schaaf. Pea- to dime-sized hail also was reported in some areas.

Any lightning Sunday was expected to be diminished under some cloud cover and temperatures forecast to peak at just 79 degrees, said Schaaf. Although Saturday’s storm formed over the Siskiyous, clouds across Josephine County inhibited lightning there, he added.

Reach features editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4494 or slemon@rosebudmedia.com. Mail Tribune Editor-in-Chief David Smigelski contributed to this story.