Storm spurs fire crews to scramble

The thunderstorm that rolled in Saturday afternoon sent emergency crews scrambling to several lightning-sparked fires across the Rogue Valley.

The largest of the reported fires consumed nearly 10 acres of trees and brush near Bishop Creek, about 1.5 miles southeast of Ruch, Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Brian Ballou said.

"It's a bonafide little forest fire," Ballousaid. "The first real one we've had this year."

A 20-person crew with Jackson County Community Justice headed up to the Bishop Creek fire to dig a trench to contain the blaze and help in the mopping up, Ballou said.

The National Weather Service reported between 500 and 1,000 lightning strikes in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

The storm sent fire crews from across Jackson County scurrying from one reported blaze to another.

Jackson County Fire District 3 chased various grass and single-tree fires, while District 9 patrolled the Applegate hunting down reported smoke and small fires in the area.

The Southern Oregon Historical Society's volunteer recognition dinner at Hanley Farm was interrupted by a lightning bolt that struck a nearby black walnut tree, Terrie Martin said.

"We heard a big 'ka-boom' when it happened," Martin said. "After the rain stopped we wandered out to see what happened and we saw that it split the tree and blew off the bark."

The force of the bolt sent chunks of bark straight in the ground like knives, Martin said.

"I've never seen that happen," Martin said. "The chunks of bark were standing straight up."

Similar storms are expected throughout next week, according to the National Weather Service.

Ballou planned to have ODF crews on standby at the break of dawn today, ready to track down additional fires not seen Saturday night.

"It's going to be a long day," Ballou said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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