ODF, U.S. Forest Service working to contain Thursday’s lightning-started fires

JACKSON CO., Ore.- A strong thunder storm system passed through Jackson County last night, resulting in over a hundred lightning strikes. When asked about lightning started fires, the Oregon Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service seemed to share a common word: collaboration. That means partnerships between them, other agencies, even local communities.

Thursday night’s lightning storm resulted in about a dozen lightning started fires, but most were kept very small. Aware of the incoming storm and red flag conditions, ODF Southwest District made sure they were prepared.

“We typically cancel all days off for our fire fighters. We’ll have everyone on, it will be all hands on deck,” explained Natalie Weber, public information officer for the district.

Detection work was number one, so response could happen quickly and keep the new starts down.

“When the storm started coming through last night, they were finding smokes just as soon as we were seeing strikes,” Weber said of their detection centers. But even with small starts, ODF crews still partnered with local fire departments, like Applegate and Rural Metro, as well as contractors and the U.S. Forest service.

“It is important in moments like these, when there are multiple fires on the landscape and it just splits up your resources,” Weber said. Those partnerships will also pay off as temperatures increase and un-checked lightning starts are discovered.

“We still have resources on all of those fires. We have continued resources coming to assist with those fires as well as any potential new starts because we still have a red flag warning for today,” said Margueritte Hickman with Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. That collaboration gives confidence to first-responders, as well as communities.

For Sanctuary One in the Applegate, a lighting fire on Little Greyback Mountain struck a little too close to home. It’s executive director, Megan Flowers, said the swift response gave them assurance.

“Because we had multiple agencies there, because we had the wonderful coordination, communication that was happening, because we had seven smoke jumpers from Boise coming in, we were able to be far more confident in the positive outcome,” Flowers explained.

Now, officials are asking you to be careful, and not force them to respond to anything new.

“If we have other fires started it will take resources, needed resources, away from fighting these lightning fires,” Natalie Weber said. She added that most fuels are “one-hour fuels” meaning that even after rain, fuels will dry up just an hour later. She says they’ve even found people starting debris burns in the rain.

ODF Southwest says they are trying to get an infrared plane to the area to check for any fires or smoldering hot spots they have yet to find.

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