Firefighters were actively involved Thursday morning in five fires in the Medford area and 34 fires outside of Grants Pass.
The Granite Hill Fire, located north of Grants Pass and east of Colonial Valley, was estimated at 8 a.m. Thursday at five acres. [ODF photo]
Oregon Department of Forestry firefighters battled five wildfires in the Medford District and 34 fires in the Grants Pass District Thursday morning after an overnight lightning storm led to reports in southwestern Oregon of 50 fires in a period of 13 hours.
And in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, the Forest Service confirmed that lightning sparked 10 new fires overnight, including one already 100 percent contained with a quarter-acre footprint.
Shortly after 12:30 p.m. Thursday, the largest new fire burning in federal forests is one acre near Steve Peak on the Siskiyou Mountain Ranger District. Many of the fires were reported in remote areas of federal forests, according to Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest spokeswoman Margueritte Hickman.
“If you look at the lightning map, it was all over the place,” Hickman said.
Josephine County saw 170 lightning strikes in the past 24 hours, and Jackson County saw 62 strikes shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday, according to meteorologist Brad Schaaf of the National Weather Service in Medford.
In anticipation of the electrical storm, Hickman said, the Forest Service called in additional air and ground resources to help in the fight.
A helicopter rappel team out of John Day and smoke jumpers from Redmond were arriving Thursday to attack fires in remote areas.
The planes were expected to be in the air by 8 a.m. Thursday monitoring known fires, providing aerial information and spotting any new fire reports on ODF protected lands, according to a news advisory from the ‘ODF Southwest Oregon District.
“In a 13-hour period, we responded to approximately 50 reports of fire in both counties,” ODF said in a news announcement early Thursday. “We are actively involved in five fires in the Medford unit that make up the Westside complex and 34 fires in the Grants Pass unit that make up the Lightning Gulch complex.”
The largest fire is the Tallowbox Fire, located on Tallowbox Mountain south of Applegate, where two fires merged to create an estimated 30-acre fire.
In Josephine County, the Granite Hill Fire, located north of Grants Pass and east of Colonial Valley, was estimated at 8 a.m. at five acres. Firefighters were on the scene and actively involved in the Granite Hill Fire, and most of the other fires were small and in the cleanup phase, ODF reported.
On Thursday, the district’s more than 150 firefighters, dispatchers and detection specialists were on duty and additional contracted resources have been brought in, including 10 20-person crews, 10 engines, two water tenders and four sets of tree fallers , ODF said.
“We have also ordered three additional Type 1 and three Type 2 helicopters to bolster our air resources,” the news alert said.
“ODF leadership is dividing incidents by area to ensure experienced personnel are engaged on the line with firefighters. … Four supervisors will each cover a quarter of the two-county area, with one additional supervisor available to handle the initial attack on new fires in the district,” ODF said.
The agency was working to create a list of the names, locations, sizes and personnel of the fires, but there is a lot of information to sort through to ensure accurate information, ODF said.
Meanwhile, the weather conditions are not favourable, with a red flag warning in effect and a threat of thunderstorms throughout the day. Additional fires and new starts are likely to be ignited Thursday, ODF said, urging people to call 911 and report any smoke they see.
As of Thursday morning, no homes were threatened and no evacuation orders were in place, but people were advised to stay aware of any potential changes and follow the Emergency Management social media pages of the Jackson County, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office. any evacuation information.