Many Curry County residents bolted to attention Sunday morning as the far-off rumbles of thunder rolled across Southern Oregon — and they had good reason.
The thunderstorm came on the heels of the Lobster Creek Fire, which burned 350 acres near the youth camp along the Rogue River earlier this month. And last year, lightning sparked what would become the 191,125-acre Chetco Bar Fire, which resulted in the destruction of six homes, the evacuation of thousands and the untold loss of revenue loss at the height of the summer tourism season.
Sunday morning’s lightning strikes triggered 68 fires in the Coast Range, according to Virginia Gibbons, public information officer with the U.S. Forest Service.
“What are we currently facing at ODF Southwest?” the Oregon Department of Forestry posted on its Facebook page. “Over 50 positive — cloud to ground — lightning strikes. Over 100 reports of smoke. Over 40 confirmed fires. Over 1,000 fire and law enforcement personnel.”
One fire in Curry County
The Bear Fire is about three acres in size approximately 2 to 3 miles northeast of Bear Camp, about 20 miles from Agness. Three engines and Coos Forest Protective Association (CFPA) firefighters were sent to fight that.
“We knew this was coming,” said U.S. Forest Service Deputy Fire and Aviation Staff Officer Dan Quinones of all the fires. “We prepared for it by bringing in additional resources in to help respond.”
In anticipation of another busy fire season, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has 22 engines, 10 smokejumpers, helicopters of various sizes, 12 rappellers, an air attack ship, the Medford Air Tanker Base at full staffing, two 10-person modules, five 20-person initial attack crews, two 20-person interagency hotshot crews, water tenders and various fire support personnel brought in to assist — with more on order.
Most of the fires are smaller than 10 acres, and no structures are threatened yet, ODF Public Information Officer Melissa Rae Cano said Monday.
In the valley
Most of the wildfires are in Jackson and Josephine counties and include:
•Swamp Creek: 16 miles north of Rogue River, estimated at 5 acres, 30 percent contained.
•Little Grayback: 8 miles east of Cave Junction, holding at two acres; no structures are threatened.
•Spencer Creek 1, 2 and 3 fires: 12 miles south of Grants Pass, three fires that are visible from Grants Pass, Applegate, Williams, Illinois Valley and Interstate 5. The total acreage is estimated at 105.
“Spencer Creek 1 and 2 were lined overnight,” ODF officials said in a report Tuesday morning. “However, Spencer Creek 3 continues to push firefighters to their limits.”
•Grave Creek 1, 2, 3 and 4 fires: A series of fires off Upper Grave Creek Road, 17 miles north of Rogue River. Total of all fires estimated at 115 acres.
“Grave Creek 3 has the most potential to make runs today, therefore, it is the current priority for the district,” according to the report. “Winds along ridgelines will also test control lines. Today, aerial and ground resources will continue to aggressively attack these fires and try to lengthen control lines along the flanks.”
•Pleasant Creek Fire: 15 miles north of Rogue River, estimated at 60 acres. Ground resources are working on line construction today, while aerial resources will work on cooling off the head of the fire in order to stop the further rate of spread.
•Tennessee Mountain: 3 miles northwest of Cave Junction. Approximately 7 acres, under control.
•Fielder: North of milepost 53 on Interstate 5, approximately 7 acres. Firefighters strengthened and secured the perimeter last night, and will be mopping up today.
Wagner Creek Complex
Fires in Jackson County include:
• Green Top Mountain: 5 miles northeast of Eagle Point; holding at 125 acres, 45 percent contained.
•Sterling Creek: 7 miles south of Jacksonville, holding at 100 acres, 30 percent contained.
•Multiple fires are burning in the area around Cleveland Ridge, and Elk and Trail creeks north of Shady Cove. At least 19 fires are on ODF lands, with the largest at 20 acres. Overall, the complex is 50 percent contained.
An interagency staging area was established at a nursery in Central Point to accommodate crews coming in from as far away as Arizona, the ODF reported.
“Overall, firefighters are making good progress with initial attack responses,” Gibbons said. “But several fires are proving to be a challenge, and additional challenges are expected in the coming days.”
Weather forecasts called for a heat wave in the region over the weekend, but foggy mornings on the coast and isolated inland rain showers helped cool temperatures, Gibbons said, adding that fire managers expect additional “holdover” fire starts to be discovered this week as temperatures increase again.
Curry County Commissioner Court Boice, who has been trying to increase awareness of the fire danger in the urban/wildland interface, said the lightning strikes were a wake-up call.
“At 10:30 it was gorgeous,” he said of Sunday’s weather at his home near Agness. “And by 11 o’clock it was dark. Your antennas just go up. I give everyone high marks as of (Sunday) at noon.
“With the fuel we have here, the next five years we’ve got to be very careful,” Boice said.
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org .