A rare morning lightning storm touched off a wildfire in northern Malheur County on Wednesday morning that could easily have turned into a major blaze fanned by gusty winds.

But firefighters, aided by good road access for bulldozers and by an armada of eight airplanes and one helicopter, contained the fire, at an estimated 100 acres, before dusk Wednesday.

“The winds on that fire were incredible,” said Al Crouch of the Bureau of Land Management’s Vale District. “There were sustained winds of at least 20 miles an hour.”

Crouch said a key to the successful firefighting effort was early detection of the blaze.

A warden from the volunteer Ironside Rangeland Fire Protection Association reported the fire about 10:39 a.m. Wednesday. It started on private land near Baldy Mountain, about two miles south of the Baker County line, Crouch said.

Thanks to “decent” road access, bulldozers were able to start digging control lines rapidly, he said.

The eight single-engine air tankers dropped retardant, and a BLM helicopter dumped water.

“We were able to send a comprehensive, full response,” Crouch said. “Everything went very well.”

But with the gusty winds in the wake of the thunderstorm, there was considerable potential for the fire to spread quickly through the dry grass and sagebrush, he said.

The fire near Baldy Mountain was the second blaze this week that had fire managers worried.

A human-caused fire that started Monday, July 5 along North Pine Creek, about 10 miles northeast of Halfway, was contained at 3.5 acres but could easily have grown much larger, Forest Service officials said.

“This could be a long summer,” Crouch said.

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