Lightning starts more than a dozen wildfires

By Baker City Herald August 13, 2013 05:31 am

Lightning from thunderstorms that raked Baker County Monday afternoon and evening sparked more than a dozen wildfires.

At least 17 fires were reported, according to the Blue Mountain Interagency Dispatch Center at the La Grande Airport.

The Center's website is www.bmidc.org. 

All the new fires were smaller than an acre Monday evening.

"Initial attack has been extremely successful," said Jodi Kramer, public affairs officer for the Wallowa-Whitman.

The new fires ranged across most of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, including Baker, Union and Wallowa counties.

Most storms have been accompanied by heavy rain and hail, which has helped fire crews keep the blazes from spreading. 

Fire officials are especially concerned about the southern part of the forest, in the Unity area, where lightning was prevalent and rain relatively scarce, Kramer said.

In addition to fire engines and firefighting crews, the Wallowa-Whitman has rappellers, who slide down ropes attached to helicopters, and smokejumpers available to respond to fires in remote areas where road access is limited.

The success at stopping fires before they spread is particularly important now, Kramer said, because the large numbers of firefighters that would be necessary to deal with a large fire are in short supply due to big fires elsewhere in the West, including Idaho and Southwestern Oregon. 

Although lightning started the new fires, Kramer said fire crews are also reporting several incidents in which people failed to douse their campfires. None of those unattended campfires has spread, but fire officials obviously don't want to have human-caused fires to worry about in addition to those sparked by lightning, Kramer said. 

Storms over the weekend sparked at least 24 more blazes. The largest, at 4.2 acres, was in Wallowa County, near Lost Prairie Road about four miles east of Troy.

The fire danger remains high or extreme across the region.