UNION COUNTY — Lightning strikes caused several fires to break out in Union County on the night of Wednesday, July 29. But Union County Emergency Services Manager JB Brock said rainfall following the lightning extinguished the flames before firefighters arrived.
“There were several down strikes on the face of Mt. Harris and Mt. Fanny, and dispatch was getting a ton of calls as fires popped up,” Brock said. “But then rain came through, which made finding the fires difficult.”
Calls regarding the fires started coming at 8 p.m. according to Union County dispatcher Ronda Griffin. Most fires were near Cove, and by 9 p.m. dispatch answered 32 calls about the fires.
The Blue Mountain Interagency Dispatch Center and John Day Interagency Dispatch Center received approximately 30 reports of fires, according to a press release from the Oregon Department of Forestry, which also anticipated more reports as hot weather continues and the fire danger remains high.
The National Weather Service in Pendleton is forecasting dry conditions and high temperatures into the low 90s for La Grande through the weekend. The NWS issued an excessive heat warning for the town for Friday, which had a high of at least 100.
Assistant forecaster Ann Adams, however, said the Grande Ronde Valley is unlikely to see any additional thunderstorms or lightning in the coming days.
In response to rising fire danger levels, additional public use restrictions went into effect Friday on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest that prohibit campfires, wood stoves, briquette fires and other activities.
“With tinder-dry forest fuels and high daytime temperatures, conditions are prime for human-caused forest fires,” according to the press release from the Wallowa-Whitman. “We ask that you be extremely careful when out in the forest.”
The restrictions allow campfires in fire pits at developed recreation sites. Anyone with a campfire must have a tool that can serve as a shovel and at least 1 gallon of water. Campfires must be attended at all times and completely extinguished prior to leaving. Campfires also are OK in Designated Wilderness Areas — however, campfires are not allowed in the Lakes Basin of the Eagle Cap Wilderness any time of the year.
Chainsaw use requires a permit, and generators must be contained in the bed of a pickup or in an area with all flammable material at least 10 feet away. Other internal combustion engines are prohibited, except for motor vehicles.
Forest users also cannot drive motor vehicles off developed forest roads and trails with one exception: Vehicles may be used to access campsites within 300 feet of an open developed road.
The Oregon Department of Forestry Northeast Oregon District also implemented public use restrictions that went into effect Friday on lands under its protection.
The restrictions prohibit several activities, including open fires, smoking, debris burning and fireworks. And from 12-8 p.m. the use of non-industrial chainsaws, cutting, grinding and welding metal and mowing of dried and cured grass with power-driven equipment also is off limits.
Likewise, ODF prohibits the use of tracer ammunition, any bullet with pyrotechnic charge in the base and exploding targets, and the forestry department prohibits sky lanterns throughout the year.
Additional requirements during fire season include electric fence controllers in use be listed by a nationally recognized testing laboratory or certified by the Department of Consumer and Business Services and be operated in compliance with manufacturer’s instructions. A shovel and 1 gallon of water or 2.5 pound fire extinguisher are required when traveling, excluding travel on state highways, county roads and driveways.