Thunderstorms rolled through Southern Oregon Tuesday afternoon and evening, and lightning strikes ignited numerous small fires.

It appears that enough rain fell to avert a major wildfire outbreak like last year's, which also began in late July. More rain fell this morning, not related to thunderstorms.

Grants Pass had 0.05 of an inch of rain in 24 hours as of

7 a.m. The highest total was 0.56 of an inch in Ashland, as a major cell went right through town, said Shad Keene of the National Weather Service in Medford.

"About every location got some rain," said Brian Ballou, Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman. "We've got reports from some of the fires that the ground was pretty darn wet. It didn't sound like anything was taking off."

As of mid-morning the number of fires on ODF-protected land had increased to about 30, but the largest was only 1.5 acres, in Murphy Gulch 5 miles east of Wimer, where thunderstorms were intense.

"Oh gosh, we had hail, lightning, everything," said Cheryl Domingue, Wimer resident and manager at the Wimer Market. "It was gnarly."

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest reported 15 small fires as of this morning, all less than an acre. Smokejumpers were called in for two small fires in the Sky Lakes Wilderness in the Cascades between Crater Lake and Mount McLoughlin.

The National Weather Service reported over 1,500 strikes in Jackson, Josephine and southern Douglas counties, according to Keene.

Another fire burned a half-acre north of Gold Hill, and one burned a quarter-acre near Ruch, Ballou said.

All the other fires were smaller.

While lightning strikes were reported in the mountains south of Grants Pass between Murphy and Selma, no fires have shown up there yet, said Shelly Hoffer, manager of the ODF's fire center in Merlin.

The agencies were sending up planes and helicopters today to look for smoke from lightning fires.

Keene said a few lightning strikes could hit today in Douglas County, but the outlook is good for Josephine and Jackson counties.

A warming trend will begin Thursday and temperatures are likely to hit 100 again sometime during the weekend.

Ballou said so far enough resources are available in this area to deal with the spot fires, despite the large number of fires around the Northwest.

Meanwhile, a band of thunderstorms moving across Oregon sparked dozens of new wildfires that crews are chasing.

Northwest Interagency Coordination Center spokesman Carol Connolly says Oregon has had 19,000 lightning strikes since Tuesday afternoon.

So far 25 new fires have been reported covering a total of 160 acres, stretching from the southern Cascade Range northwest into central and northeastern Oregon.

There was a lot of rain with many of the storms, so it is not clear how many of those new starts may grow into large fires.

The cooler temperatures and rain helped firefighters increase containment of the 11 large fires still burning across central and northeastern Oregon since a string of lightning storms moved across the region last week.

More lightning is expected today.

Lightning strikes hit much of eastern Oregon on Tuesday, leaving several dozen reports of new wildfire starts, fire officials said.

Many of the new fire reports came from areas around Prineville and in the Ochoco National Forest that were hard hit in the last lightning storm, said the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center.

Fire crews were dispatched quickly across central Oregon. By late Tuesday night, the dispatch center said it was responding to more than 40 reports, with many of those fire starts already encircled by fire line and contained.

The Oregon Department of Forestry reported the 401 fires on state-protected lands to date this year are 10 percent more than the 10-year average, but the 58 square miles that have burned are seven times greater.

The 343 human-caused fires this year have burned 8,804 acres, but the 58 lightning-caused fires have spread across far more land, burning 28,084 acres. The state protects private and state lands and U.S. Bureau of Land Management land west of the Cascades.

Oregon led the nation in the number of large fires. Elsewhere, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported five in Washington, two in Utah, two in Arizona, one in California and two in Idaho.


Reach reporter Jeff Duewel at 541-474-3720 or

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