Crews on the lookout for wildfires in wake of lightning

Crews on the lookout for wildfires in wake of lightning

EUGENE, Ore. - Storms rained lightning on Western Oregon overnight, thrilling night owls and insomniacs with a light show - and sparking a new round of wildfires.

The Eugene area had a great view of the storm but escaped much of the lightning.

Phil Hunter with the Oregon Department of Forestry said more than two dozen lightning strikes touched down in the area, but no wildfires had been reported as of 10 a.m.

"This cluster shows that this storm was pretty intense," Hunter said, pointing at Cheshire on a map. "It kind of lingered there a little bit, and there were number of strikes in the area before it moved on to the north."

Hunter said he notified crews earlier in the day that storms were starting to build southwest of the Western Lane District.

"Be paying attention to your phones tonight. Be ready," he told them. "Get your rest, you're likely going to get called in."

Due to the high number of active wildfires in the state, his staff is already low.

"We've got folks out now on ridge tops and mountain tops looking," he said. "We've also got detection cameras that are looking for any signs of a fire."

Hunter said lightning-caused fires can "sleep" for days, sometimes weeks.

"We're concerned about the burning period," he said. "Three o'clock to five o'clock period is when you have winds on it, low humidities, and your temperatures are up there, that's when it's likely to pick up."

ODF uses a three-prong attack. Hunter says they use groundcrews, detection cameras and fixed-winged planes or helicopters to detect and extinguish a fire.

Overnight, lightning caused a dozen small fires in the Willamette National FOrest.

Jude McHugh with the USDA Forest Service said no one should see smoke from the fires, but Oakridge residents might see some helicopters and other fire-fighting apparatus in the area.

McHugh says none of the fires pose any threats to homes and are burning in remote or wilderness areas.

In Central Oregon, more than 2,000 lightning flashes resulted in 25 new fires as of 10 a.m. The Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch said that number would likely rise as the day went on and crews discovered new fire starts.