About 1,200 Lightning Strikes Keep Ore. Crews Hustling

July 23--About 1,200 lightning strikes touched down Tuesday afternoon and evening across Jackson County, starting several wildfires thoughout the region.

The Siskiyou Mountains, areas surrounding Sardine Creek and East Evans Creek north of Gold Hill and the Rogue Valley were all hammered with lightning during the storm, said Brett Lutz, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Medford.

The Cascade Range between Medford and Klamath Falls also soaked up several dozen strikes, Lutz said.

Firefighters were being guided into smoke columns rising from the forest by a reconnaissance plane flying the area until nightfall, said Brian Ballou, Oregon Department of Forestry fire prevention specialist.

Fire crews were on scene of about 20 fires by 9:30 p.m., Ballou said, the largest about a half-acre near Sardine Creek.

"We'll just have to wait and see what pops up (Wednesday)," Ballou said, expecting a busy day for firefighters.

He said more reconnaissance flights are scheduled and lookouts will have their eyes fixed on the slopes this morning.

"(Lightning) kind of exploded on the southern end of the valley between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.," said Ryan Sandler, meteorologist with the NWS in Medford. "Lightning can strike well outside of the rain core; and with the dry conditions, if you get a strike outside of the heavy rain, it may start a fire or a sleeper."

A "sleeper" is a fire that will burn minimally for a day or weeks before igniting into a full-fledged wildfire.

"The good news is that the humidity is coming up, but the bad news is that the wind is coming up, too," he said.

Lutz said Tuesday's storm that passed through Southern Oregon and Northern California sent about 4,500 lightning strikes to the surface of the earth.

"Jackson County was one of the hardest hit areas," he said. "It's not common to have that many. When we have these situations ... history shows that we get a lot of our fires from them."

Sandler said a low pressure front that moved over the Pacific Northwest combined with monsoonal moisture from the south, creating the conditions.

The storm let go plenty of rain, Sandler said, nearly a half-inch was reported just east of Talent and a portion of North Main Street in Ashland flooded briefly as rain overwhelmed storm drains.

Dime-sized hail and 50 mph wind gusts were also reported in Rogue River at about 5 p.m., he said.

"We were highlighting this day as being a day of thunderstorms," he said. "It's defiantly, for the county, one of the more active days."

Copyright 2014 - Mail Tribune, Medford, Ore.