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Crews battle 60 lightning-sparked fires Thursday in Southern Oregon

The Tallowbox Fire burns near Highway 238 in the Applegate Valley Thursday. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune ]
Tallowbox Fire burns near Red Lily Vineyards in the Applegate Valley on Thursday. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Five fires in Medford area, 34 fires outside Grants Pass and 10 in the National Forest tested firefighters Thursday

In the aftermath of more than 200 lightning strikes, Oregon Department of Forestry and Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest worked Thursday to extinguish dozens of wildfires in Jackson and Josephine counties — and more lightning was expected.

Five wildfires in the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Medford District and 34 fires in the Grants Pass district were active Thursday following an overnight lightning storm that resulted in 50 reports of fires over a 13-hour period in southwest Oregon.

And in Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, the Forest Service confirmed 10 new fires Thursday.

The largest fire crews were battling was the Tallowbox Fire, located on Tallowbox Mountain south of Applegate, where two fires merged to create a fire that as of Thursday afternoon ODF estimated at 30 acres.

As of Thursday afternoon, a list of fire names, locations, sizes and personnel were still pending.

In Josephine County, the Granite Hill Fire, located north of Grants Pass and east of Colonial Valley, was estimated at five acres Thursday afternoon, while the majority of the other fires were small or in mop-up phases.

The largest new fire in federal forestland reported Thursday was one-acre blaze burning near Steve Peak on the Siskiyou Mountain Ranger District, according to Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest spokeswoman Margueritte Hickman.

Another fire, the Hamacker Fire, had a footprint of a quarter acre and was 100% lined by Thursday morning. Hickman said many of the fires were reported in remote areas

“If you look at the lightning map, it was kind of all over the place,” Hickman said.

Josephine County saw 170 lightning strikes in the 24 hours prior to 1 p.m. Thursday, and Jackson County saw 62 strikes, according to meteorologist Brad Schaaf with the National Weather Service in Medford.

Ahead of the lightning storm, Oregon Department of Forestry and the Forest Service both called in extra resources.

All 150-plus ODF firefighters, dispatchers and detection specialists were on duty Thursday, and additional contract personnel and resources were brought on, including ten 20-person crews, 10 engines, two water tenders and four sets of tree fallers, ODF said.

“We’ve also ordered an additional three type 1 and three type 2 helicopters to bolster our air resources,” ODF said.

“ODF leadership is dividing the incidents by area to ensure experienced personnel are engaged on the line with firefighters. ... Four supervisors will each take a quarter of the two-county area, with an additional supervisor available to handle initial attack on new fire starts within the district,” ODF said.

According to Hickman said, the Forest Service called in added aerial and ground resources to aid in the firefight.

A helicopter rappel team out of John Day and smokejumpers out of Redmond arrived Thursday to pounce on fires in remote areas.

Planes were in the air by 8 a.m. Thursday to monitor known fires, provide information from the air and scout out any new reports of fire on ODF protected lands.

“In a 13-hour period, we have responded to approximately 50 reports of fire across both counties,” ODF said in a news advisory early Thursday. “We’re actively engaged on five fires on the Medford Unit that make up the Westside Complex, and 34 fires on the Grants Pass unit that make up the Lightning Gulch Complex.”

A red flag warning and threats of additional thunderstorms remained in effect throughout the day Thursday. Additionally, crews are braced for additional holdover fires and new starts that ignite Thursday. ODF asked that people call 911 and report any smoke they see.

As of Thursday afternoon no homes were threatened, and no evacuation orders were in place, but people were advised to be aware of any potential changes and follow Jackson County Emergency Management, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, and the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office social media pages for any evacuation information.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.