Multiple lightning strikes spark wildland fires on national forest

Written by Katy Nesbitt/The Observer July 10, 2013 11:14 am

Wildland fires popped up across Idaho, Washington and Oregon when a lightning storm grazed the region Monday.

Nearly 9,000 strikes were recorded in the three states, said Nathan Goodrich, fire management officer for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest’s north zone.

Two fires burning in Wallowa County were spotted by a reconnaissance flight early Monday morning — one on Doc Creek near the Eagle Cap Wilderness boundary and another 19 miles north of Enterprise.

A contracted plane is based in La Grande, Goodrich said, adding, “If he’s not assigned to something we’ll use him for recon.”

The pilot located several fires on the Pomeroy District, where most of the lightning occurred, Goodrich said.

Seven Redmond smoke jumpers were joined by six firefighters from La Grande on the fire, holding the blaze to just six acres in the roadless area of the forest. The jumpers spent Tuesday night on the fire and were going home Wednesday, Goodrich said.

The fire north of Enterprise was accessible by road and bordered ranch land. The fire near Mud Spring was held to 10-1/2 acres and was fought by engine crews from the North Zone. Goodrich said the fire was being mopped up Tuesday afternoon and there was very little smoke at the end of the day.

Goodrich said other fires on the Wallowa-Whitman were on the Walla Walla District and the Baker District. The Umatilla National Forest had approximately a half dozen starts from Monday morning’s storm and the Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho had 15 fire starts.

The starts ushered in fire season a little early this year, Goodrich said.

“Usually we don’t get fires in the beginning of July that are five and 10 acres,” he said. “The brush and grass is green from the rain we got a few weeks ago, but things are changing. The canyon bottoms are cured out — it’s definitely fire season.”

He said 80 percent of the zone’s fires will start in the next few weeks to a month — generally most of the region’s lightning starts are from July 15 to Aug. 15. Last year’s Cache Creek Fire started from a lightning strike Aug. 19 and eventually burned nearly 75,000 acres.

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