Hot, chance of fires

It could be a memorable day in Ashland as weather forecasters are predicting record temperatures and a high probability for a thunderstorm today.

"It will be one hot day," National Weather Service Meteorologist Mike O'Brien said. The hottest temperature ever recorded in Ashland on July 10 was 103 degrees in 2002, and he predicts today's temperature could match that, noting that the thermostat mercury should dip back down to a more normal 95 degrees tomorrow.

That's the good news about today's weather forecast. The bad news is, in addition to the high temperature, a low-pressure system moving north from coastal California will render today both humid &

and perhaps more importantly &

likely there will be dry lightning strikes in the Rogue Valley.

"Looking at the clouds, high and feathery, it looks like we're going to get a storm of some sorts," said Brian Ballou, a fire-prevention specialist for the Oregon Department of Forestry. "I just hope it's not a bad one."

The NWS issued a "red-flag warning" for fire probability from today at 2 p.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday.

With thunderstorms likely, firefighters are getting ready to go to work.

"Of course we are monitoring our lightning tracking system, and our fire lookouts are on duty," he said. "If it looks like we could get a high concentration of strikes at the south end of Ashland we might move people that way."

ODF has 10 fire engines, several crews, a bulldozer and an air tanker stationed at Medford's Rogue Valley International Airport. National Forest fire crews met this morning to plan for today's likelihood for lightning-caused fire. At Ashland Fire and Rescue, Chris Chambers, the forest resource specialist, said city fire fighters are less likely to see action because lightning doesn't typically ignite fires in urban areas. But he is employing the power of positive thinking.

"There isn't a lot we can do," he said. "Just hope we get some rain and it's not a dry lightning."

If a wildland fire does break out, Ballou said it could be days or weeks before firefighters put them out.

"It sometimes takes several days for fires started by lightning to start up," Ballou said. "If we get hundreds of lightning strikes, invariably some will turn into fires that could take several weeks to put out. It depends on the scope of the lightning event."

Echoing Chambers sentiment, he added, "It sure would be nice if (the storm) brought some rain along with it."

The potential for thunderstorms will persist until Wednesday evening. The hot weather, on the other hand, is expected to last until the weekend. The NWS is predicting temperatures in the high 90s until Saturday, when it should cool off to 91 degrees for Saturday and Sunday.

The average temperature for early July is in the low 90-degree range, O'Brien said. Temperatures fluctuating 5 degrees either way are common and temperatures fluctuating 15 degrees, such as today, happen about once a year.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or .

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