By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
A suspected lightning-caused forest fire reported Sunday afternoon has burned 100 to 200 acres on the east side of the Minam River canyon southwest of Wallowa.
U.S. Forest Service officials have not confirmed the fire's cause, but they believe a lightning strike last week is the culprit, said Angelica Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
There was no lightning in the area over the weekend, but lighting-sparked blazes sometimes smolder for several days or even weeks before a combination of heat and wind fans embers into flames.
andquot;When the weather starts to change and the wind picks up is when (fires) start to flare up,andquot; Johnson said.
An air tanker dumped retardant to slow the fire's spread Sunday, Johnson said.
Today, a pair of 20-person Hot Shot firefighting crews, as well as four other 20-person crews, were assigned to a fire camp established at Deer Creek fish hatchery, she said.
An Oregon Department of Forestry fire engine crew reported the blaze about 3 p.m. in the Deer Creek area near the Big Canyon Road, Johnson said.
Three engines, one bulldozer and one 20-person crew worked on the fire Sunday afternoon and evening.
Officials pulled the crews off the firelines Sunday night due to potential danger from strong winds and erratic fire behavior, Johnson said.
The fire is burning in open as well as dense forests, she said.
The fire is outside the Eagle Cap Wilderness, but within a mile of the wilderness boundary, Johnson said.
The area is accessible by roads.
Weather should help firefighters the next few days.
The National Weather Service is predicting much cooler temperatures and a chance of rain showers.
Farther south on Sunday, a lightning storm sparked several new fires on the Malheur National Forest, said Forest Supervisor Roger Williams.
Four of the eight new blazes were still out of control this morning. The largest, estimated at 40 acres, is near Fields Peak, about 10 miles southwest of Mount Vernon, Williams said.
Other fires in that area are smaller than 10 acres.
Another fire of about 10 acres is burning near Kahler Butte, about eight miles east of Long Creek.
andquot;The fire behavior on these fires is pretty wild for this time of year,andquot; Williams said. andquot;Our first priority with every fire is firefighter and public safety.
andquot;We staffed these fires and used retardant yesterday and additional resources are coming in today.andquot; The storms that spawned lightning on the Malheur Sunday apparently did not reach the Wallowa-Whitman.
Johnson said no new lightning fires were reported on the forest.