Christian Bringhurst

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July 16, 2013
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Douglas County firefighters already busy, now comes lightning

Small fires erupted throughout Douglas County as crews responded Monday and today to blazes in Tiller, Glendale, the Callahans west of Roseburg and the Wild Horse area east of Sutherlin.

Fire crews today continued to mop up a fire in the 3000 block of Tiller Trail Highway, the largest of the blazes at 25 acres. The fire started around 4:30 p.m. three miles northeast of Tiller and burned grass, brush and 10-year-old trees before being stopped.

“Those younger tree units, when they ignite they typically burn real hot and really fast, so it was really an amazing stop by our firefighters,” Douglas Forest Protective Association spokesman Kyle Reed said.

The fire started in a large grass field on the north side of the South Umpqua River, but eventually leaped across the river in several different areas. Fire crews spread out in rugged hillside terrain to keep the fire from spreading any farther.

A rough line was built around the fire by Monday night, and crews worked through the night fortifying the line and beginning to mop up. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Around 9 p.m., crews from the DFPA and Douglas County Fire District No. 2 responded to a report of heavy black smoke near the Callahans west of Roseburg, where they discovered a hydraulic shovel had caught fire at a private logging site. The cause of the fire, which damaged the shovel but did not spread to the surrounding area, is under investigation.

A blaze between Sixth and Seventh streets in Glendale sparked around midnight and burned half an acre of grass and brush before firefighters with the Glendale Fire Department and the DFPA put it out. That fire is also under investigation.

Lightning early today struck a tree in the Wild Horse area between Sutherlin and Mount Scott and one-tenth of an acre burned. That fire has since been trailed and mopped up.

“That’s the only lightning fire that we know of so far, but when we look at the satellite there’s a big band of moisture basically heading over the top of us,” Reed said. “When we see these conditions, there’s a good chance of more lightning.”

Lightning is forecast throughout the day for this region until midnight, according to Reed.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Petrucelli in Medford confirmed the risk of further thunderstorms, but said the highest threat will be north of the county toward Salem.

The DFPA sent a plane up this morning to search for more lightning-caused fires, but didn’t find any. The Umpqua National Forest will also be monitoring federal forestland.

“We keep monitoring after a lightning storm, especially if we can tell from the lightning tracker that there have been a lot of strikes,” Umpqua National Forest spokeswoman Cheryl Caplan said. “We also take fuel loads and weather into consideration.”

Oregon has experienced 54 lightning-caused fires that have burned 176 acres so far this year, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry, a dramatic decrease from the 10-year average of 75 fires and 4,374 acres burned by this time of the year.

However, human-caused fires are up in the state, which has experienced 304 such fires and 1,166 acres burned compared to a 10-year average of 250 fires and 704 acres burned.

Caplan urged the public to be careful this summer in the forest, where Forest Service workers already have seen a number of abandoned campfires from campers.

“We really don’t need that,” she said. “If people go camping, please make sure it’s extinguished … It just takes some heat and dry wind to get that going.”

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The News-Review Updated Jul 16, 2013 12:39PM Published Jul 17, 2013 11:39AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.