Weather aids firefighters after lightning

As if feeling guilty about sparking lightning-caused fires throughout Jackson and Josephine counties over the weekend, Mother Nature is now giving firefighters a helping hand in battling the blazes.

Forecasters were expecting rain to fall across much of Oregon during the night, with more to come today in both counties.

"The good news is there is no lightning expected with the weather system coming in," observed Paul Galloway, spokesman for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. "We should have cooler temperatures, higher humidity and the chance of widespread rain."

The goal is to get a handle on the existing fires before dry, hot weather returns over the weekend, officials said.

Cooler temperatures and scattered rain Monday night, coupled with quick action by hand crews backed by air tankers and helicopters carrying huge water buckets, enabled firefighters to snuff out many of the local fires caused by the weekend lightning storms.

Most of the roughly 40 fires on Oregon Department of Forestry-protected lands in the two counties have been contained and mopped up, according to Brian Ballou, spokesman for ODF's Southwest Oregon District. The storm sparked 11 fires in Josephine County and 27 in Jackson, he reported.

The largest fire in the district was less than nine acres. Seven fires discovered Monday were less than a quarter of an acre, he said.

"We still expect a few more to pop up," Ballou said of "sleepers" that smolder for a few days before flaming up. "But if we get some good rain, that will help a lot.

"It'll give us a chance to roll up the hose and get ready for the next blitz," he added.

Firefighters are also making headway on more than 20 wildfires on national forest land, Galloway said, although steep, inaccessible terrain has been a challenge for the crews.

Four airtankers and four heavy helicopters were deployed to the forest's wild fires on Tuesday.

The 300-acre Lonesome fire, the largest on the forest, is largely "creeping," he said of the fire in the High Cascades Ranger District some 15 miles northwest of Union Creek.

The lower elevation Bessie Rock fire about eight miles east of Prospect grew to 150 acres by Monday.

A 10-acre fire was discovered Monday in the Sky Lakes Wilderness about 12 miles east of Prospect. The Middle Fork fire is in a steep area with heavy timber, Galloway said. Hand crews were being deployed to the site Tuesday.

Firefighters also were being sent to three other small fires discovered Tuesday morning in the High Cascades district, he said.

All other fires in the district have been encircled by fire lines and are being mopped up, he added.

The two other largest fires in the forest are both in the Wild Rivers Ranger DIstrict. The Whiskers Peak fire has grown to about 200 acres southeast of Cave Junction near Bolan Lake. The other is the 150-acre Horse Mountain fire on the Wild Rivers district about 15 miles north of Cave Junction. That fire is burning in an area burned by the 2002 Biscuit fire. There were also several other small fires in the district that were staffed.

The 10-acre Fish fire on the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District was being mopped up Tuesday. A burning snag was also discovered in the Ashland Creek watershed and quickly extinguished.

"If we can get this front in with cooler temperatures and a little rain, that will decrease fire behavior," Galloway said. "We'd be looking good."

The mercury is expected to rise to around 90 in the region on the weekend but will likely drop down to the mid-80s for a high by Monday, the National Weather Service predicted.

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