A Red Flag warning has been issued in southwest Oregon as more lightning is predicted in the region’s historic inferno. Due to dangerously unhealthy air, masks are now recommended for children and the elderly in the Medford area, according to the Department of Environmental Quality and Medford Alert on Wednesday evening.
The Red Flag warning for thunderstorms producing abundant lightning on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is in effect through midnight on Thursday, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry, Southwest Oregon.
Along with some rain, 914 lightning strikes hit Oregon statewide overnight Tuesday and Wednesday, many in areas already burning in the nation’s worst fire today — and possibly in history if predictions are accurate.
“We expect to keep getting this for the rest of the week,” said Jeree Mills, a spokeswoman at the federal fire center in Portland, about the lightning and rain. “It can help, or it can cause major activity. It’s hard to tell.”
Fire crews are responding to 13 new fires on the Rogue River in SiskiyouNational Forest. They were each sparked by Tuesday night’s lightning storm.
“As of noon today, 12 fires were reported on the High Cascade Ranger District and one on the Wild Rivers Ranger District,” reports the Oregon Department of Forestry.
“The U.S. Forest Service anticipated this storm and positioned people and engines to respond to reported smokes. Some areas of the Forest are receiving light rain, which is assisting with fire suppression efforts.
Fire danger throughout southwest Oregon remains extreme. Fire officials ask the public to be familiar with current public use restrictions.
There are presently four major areas burning, each named. That number has decreased as some of the uncontained fires merged.
On the southern edge of Whiskey fire in Douglas County, fire burned vigorously out of Beaver Creek, jumping lines and roads. Crews there were told to retreat to safety zones.
West of Whiskey Fire, is the Big Windy Fire where a 19-year-old water truck driver died in a crash Tuesday. Fire crews reported keeping flames from jumping the Rogue River to the north.
“This area had three separate fires until Tuesday, when they merged into one,” Associated Press reported.
At the Douglas Complex, that had been the worst group of fires, residents of approximately 60 homes under an evacuation order have been told they could return home.
It was unclear exactly what whipped up that fire, but local microclimates often make turbulent conditions between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
“It’s kind of our witching hour,” she said.
The National Guard along with local and interstate fire workers comprise some 5000 responders in the region.
Sources: SWOFIRE, Associated Press