News | Local | Northwest Wildfires

Oregon Firefighters Chase New Lightning Fires

AP | July 23, 2014 6:49 a.m.

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Lightning rolled through much of eastern Oregon on Tuesday, leaving in its wake several dozen reports of new wildfire starts, fire officials said.

That news came as firefighters made progress in their battle against 11 major wildfires already burning across the state.

Many of the new fire reports came from the same areas around Prineville and in the Ochoco National Forest that were hard hit in the last lightning storm, said the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center.

Fire crews were dispatched quickly across central Oregon. By late Tuesday night, the dispatch center said it was responding to more than 40 reports, with many of those fire starts already encircled by fire line and contained.

Earlier in the day, Carol Connolly, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, said 3,000 lightning strikes were reported as a band of storms moved from the Northern California coast across the Cascade Range in southern Oregon to the Blue Mountains in the northeastern corner of the state.

There was rain with many of the strikes, but not others.

The center said that 6,188 people were involved in the battle to contain large fires burning across 916 square miles. Four of those fires were at least 50 percent contained.

The Oregon Department of Forestry reported that the 401 fires on state-protected lands to date this year are 10 percent more than the 10-year average, but the 58 square miles that have burned are seven times greater.

The 343 human-caused fires this year have burned 8,804 acres, but the 58 lightning-caused fires have spread across far more land, burning 28,084 acres. The state protects private and state lands and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands west of the Cascades.

Oregon led the nation in the number of large fires. Elsewhere, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported five in Washington, two in Utah, two in Arizona, one in California and two in Idaho.

The wildfire evacuation advisory was lifted for 32 scattered homes along the Metolius River and the Metolius Arm of Lake Billy Chinook north of Sisters, fire spokesman Jeanne Klein said. Fire lines on the eastern edge of the Bridge 99 fire have been holding, and the Level III evacuation advisory was dropped to Level II, advising residents to be ready to leave on short notice.

The advisory to be ready to leave on short notice was also eased for 550 homes in communities around Lake Billy Chinook.

The Bridge 99 fire was 31 percent contained at nine square miles of timber, brush and grass mostly on the Deschutes National Forest about 20 miles north of Sisters.

Sections of the Pacific Crest Trail were closed due to proximity to fires.

The Waterman complex burning in the Ochoco Mountains around the community of Mitchell was 75 percent contained at 20 square miles. Full containment was projected for Sunday. U.S. Highway 26 reopened to traffic with a pilot car west of Mitchell for the first time in about a week.

The Shankiko Butte fire 15 miles north of Warm Springs was 75 percent contained at 66 square miles of grass.

The Buzzard complex fires 45 miles northeast of Burns were 75 percent contained at 618 square miles.

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