Lightning in forecast; fire danger warning

Fire crews will be watching the skies today as a round of thunderstorms are expected to pass over the Rogue Valley, possibly bringing lightning and increased fire danger, weather officials said.

The National Weather Service said the storm front will begin in Siskiyou County and head north, cruising into the Rogue Valley sometime this afternoon.

The forecast has prompted the weather service to issue a "fire danger warning" for Southern Oregon, said meteorologist Shad Keene.

"These storms will bring a definite increase in fire risk," Keene said.

The recent hot weather and lack of rain have kept fire crews busy chasing wildland blazes from Rogue River to Ashland.

The Oregon Department of Forestry scrambled Tuesday to douse a 2-acre fire just off Interstate 5 south of Ashland.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. ODF and several other fire departments were able to contain the fire before it moved into steep canyons near the Siskiyou Summit, ODF spokesman Brian Ballou said.

"If it made it to those canyons it would have been bad news for everyone," he said.

One southbound freeway lane was closed for nearly an hour starting at about 11 a.m. Fire crews used a bulldozer to dig a line around the blaze, which burned in light brush.

The fire was under control in about two hours, Ballou said.

Ballou said fire crews will now begin monitoring the horizon, looking for fires that could be caused by today's expected thunderstorms.

"You know you're going to have thunderstorms at least once per summer," Ballou said. "Our people will be ready for any fires that come from them."

Keene said the storms could bring hail and some rain late into the evening. The rain could help quell any fires before they grow too large, he said.

"But we do think the storms will start dry, with lightning," he said. "That is bad news when it comes to fires."

Keene said the storms could be strong in certain locations around Jackson County.

"It's tough to say exactly where those spots will be," he said. "We will know more (today)."

Highs are expected in the mid-90s today and are expected to be in the low- to mid-90s into early next week.

The thunderstorms could continue late into this evening, weather officials said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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