Firefighters brace for new lightning storms in Oregon

Firefighters brace for new lightning storms in Oregon
A plane drops retardant on the Logging Unit fire.

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Firefighters made further progress Tuesday as they battled 11 major wildfires burning across Oregon, but more fires could be in the offing east of the Cascade Range as a band of lightning storms moves across the northern tier of the state.

Forecasts called for lightning across north-central Oregon into the northeastern corner of the state, where most of the existing fires are already burning. The key will be how much rain falls.

"These thunderstorms will probably be wet, however, if they are not there is a high potential for large fires in the areas that receive lightning," said Northwest Interagency Coordination Center spokeswoman Carol Connolly from Portland.

The center reports 6,188 people involved in the battle to contain large fires burning across 916 square miles. Four of those were at least 50 percent contained.

The Oregon Department of Forestry reports the 401 fires on state-protected lands to date this year are 10 percent more than the 10-year average, but the 58 square miles that have burned is seven times greater.

The 343 human-caused fires this year have burned 8,804 acres, but the 58 lightning-caused fires have spread across far more land, burning 28,084 acres. The state protects private and state lands and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands west of the Cascades.

Oregon led the nation in the number of large fires. Elsewhere, The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported five in Washington, two in Utah, two in Arizona, one in California, and two in Idaho.

The Waterman complex burning in the Ochoco Mountains around the community of Mitchell was 75 percent contained at 20 square miles. Full containment was projected for Sunday. U.S. Highway 26 reopened to traffic with a pilot car west of Mitchell for the first time in about a week.

On the Bridge 99 Fire 20 miles north of Sisters, evacuation advisories remained in effect for homes along the Metolius River, and communities around Lake Billy Chinook were advised to be ready to leave on short notice. The fire was 25 percent contained at 8.3 square miles of timber, brush and grass, mostly on the Deschutes National Forest.

The Shankiko Butte fire 15 miles north of Warm Springs was 50 percent contained at 66 square miles of grass.

The Buzzard complex fires 45 miles northeast of Burns were 75 percent contained at 618 square miles.