Lightning sparks numerous fires across region

An early morning lightning storm rumbled across portions of Jackson, Josephine and Douglas counties before dawn today, leaving roughly 60 fires in its wake.

At mid-morning, the largest was about five acres.

Lightning from the fast-moving storm ignited fires from half a dozen miles east of Selma in Josephine County to the northern portion of Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in Jackson County as well as throughout southern Douglas County, officials said. The storm delivered no rain in most places.

More than 35 fires have been found in Douglas County in the area protected by the Douglas Forest Protective Association while more than 20 have been discovered on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District, largely northwest of Grants Pass.

Two fires are burning on the national forest, although more are likely to pop up, according to a forest spokesman.

Two other fires have been found in the area staffed by the Coos Forest Protective Association based in Coos County.

"We will probably get some big fires out of this, at least one," warned Jim Whittington, spokesman for the BLM's Medford District. "The storm hit around 2 a.m. Lightning started popping up all over."

The Oregon Department of Forestry reported that more than 200 lightning strikes were recorded in Douglas County.

Fires burning on slopes in forest and brush areas can be expect to grow this afternoon, Whittington said. In Medford, the temperature is expected to hit 101 degrees.

Many of the fires are in remote, rugged areas that create an additional challenge to firefighters already battling extreme heat and dry conditions, he said.

"That's how it works: lightning doesn't land in convenient places," observed veteran firefighter Brian Ballou, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry's Southwest Oregon District. "It seems like there is always a long hike in, and a cliff involved."

But there are a lot of firefighters and equipment on hand to attack the still-small fires, he said, noting that both ground and air crews are being deployed.

"We've got enough helicopters and people to take a good whack at this," he said. "Whether we are completely successful remains to be seen. We have nothing real big yet, but they are scattered all over the place.

All fire agencies in the region are cooperating in working to stop the blazes before they spread through the abnormally dry forestlands, he said.

— Paul Fattig

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