Sabrina Thompson

As lightning struck Eastern Oregon the weekend of Aug. 10 and the days prior, fires began to pop up across the area. Fortunately, the Oregon Department of Forestry was prepared for this and quickly contained the flames.

Of 70 fires that have occurred, only one grew larger than 10 acres, according to a press release by ODF.

Jamie Paul, Eastern Oregon Area assistant director, praised area fire crews in the press release for their efforts and hard work: “Responding to so many fires in such a short time period and keeping them small demonstrates how dedicated and aggressive ODF firefighters are to initial attack fire suppression.”

ODF also attributes the success of fighting the lightning fires to the preparation that was done. They were anticipating the storms because of red flag warnings that local weather groups had discussed with them, and as a result requested additional resources including engines from local rural fire departments, the Oregon Military Department and ODF in Western Oregon, as well as contract bulldozers. In addition to staffing and these move-up resources, aircrafts were instrumental in the success of the initial attack on the fires. According to the press release, these aircraft included single-engine air tankers, a heli-tack platform capable of delivering firefighters with gear quickly to remote fires, and helicopters that dropped water to cool hot spots so that ground troops have time to engage.

According to La Grande area ODF Assessment Coordinator Christine Shaw, much of the success was due to having these additional people fighting the fires.

“We focus mostly on Central Oregon but can work with partners in the military and local fire departments. We also coordinate with our district on the west side with less potential for lightning fires during this time,” Shaw said. “It’s a bonus for them because they get experience of initial attack and (other elements of wildfire fighting) they might not get as much of being on the west side.”

Lightning fires are different than other types of fires. Shaw said ODF might get one human-started fire a day and such fires are usually contained to one area. They also come with no warning. Lightning fires, however, can be widespread and are often predicted through weather patterns.

“It’s all spread out,” Shaw said. “We all coordinate and can swap resources, as well as working with federal partners and local fire districts.”

Thunder and lightning storms that occur without rain bring a greater risk of fires. Additionally, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Severe Storms Laboratory, energy from lightning heats the air anywhere from 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit to up to 60,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Year to date there have been 114 lightning fires in the Eastern Oregon area burning just over 1,300 acres, compared to the 10-year average of 107 fires burning just over 12,000 acres, according to the ODF press release. There are no predictions for upcoming lightning storms at this time.

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