Lightning strikes spark small fires

At least 1,500 lightning strikes were reported around Southern Oregon and Northern California Thursday, sparking several small fires and dropping rain over parts of the region, fire and weather officials said.

The lightning was spurred by a low-pressure system that moved into the area overnight Wednesday. Scattered showers moved across the Rogue Valley from 6 to 9 a.m. Thursday, followed by a lull and a second round of lightning and rain in the late afternoon hours.

Seven lightning-sparked fires ignited on U.S. Forest Service lands overnight Wednesday, with one east of Applegate Lake reaching 25 acres by Thursday afternoon. Crews responded to that blaze, the Iron Knob fire, with a 20-person crew, but had to back off because of the second round of thunderstorms. No estimated containment date was given.

"It's looking favorable, but I don't think we can project to that at this point in time," said Bob Gale, spokesman for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Additional strikes were reported in the Cascades and Siskiyous, sparking fires of between 1 and 6 acres, the U.S. Forest Service reported.

Oregon Department of Forestry officials said they prepared for additional lightning-caused fires throughout the day Thursday, beefing up their force with a bulldozer and five additional engines. They responded to small fires on the Keno Access Road, Parker Mountain near Howard Prairie, Boswell Mountain near Shady Cove, Shale City and Butte Falls, though none grew above a quarter-acre.

Nine fires were reported on ODF lands in Josephine County.

"(They) got hit quite a bit more than Jackson County did," said Caitlin Goins of ODF.

Fire crews made significant progress on the western containment line of the Big Windy Complex, where containment was estimated at 30 percent.

"It was a good day," said Howard Hunter, public information officer at the Big Windy, burning 25 miles northwest of Grants Pass.

Crews were not able to perform any burnout work on Thursday because of scattered showers that fell over parts of the complex, but no new lightning starts were reported within the complex. Crews still need to complete containment lines and burnout work near Howard Creek, which is difficult work because of the terrain.

"There's no walking out from there. We have to raft out," Hunter said. "It's a tricky place."

More than 22,500 acres have burned at the Big Windy. The estimated date of full containment is Sept. 7.

Crews continued to make progress on two other large lightning-sparked fires in Southern Oregon. The Douglas Complex, burning seven miles north of Glendale, was 83 percent contained Thursday afternoon and had grown to 48,643 acres. Fire officials reported all closures had been lifted.

The Whiskey Complex outside Tiller was at 80-percent containment with 17,420 acres burned.

Crews on the Salmon River fire in Northern California, one mile west of Sawyers Bar, reported 95 percent containment Thursday with 14,335 acres burned.

The Butler fire near Somes Bar had consumed 19,538 acres, and crews had the blaze 35 percent contained Thursday.

Strikes caused power outages at the Applegate and Provolt Pacific Power substations Thursday morning, cutting off power to 4,060 customers.

The outages were reported at 9:34 a.m., with customers along Highway 238 and Watergap, Kincaid and Cedar Flat affected. Officials restored power by 2 p.m.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or

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