Fire crews respond to new reports of wildfires

Several hundred lightning strikes hit Central Oregon as thunderstorms roll through

Fire crews tonight were responding to several dozen new reports of possible wildfires as thunderstorms rolled through Central Oregon.

The storms produced lightning strikes around the region Tuesday afternoon and into the evening. About 400 lightning strikes had hit Central Oregon, part of about 3,000 statewide by 6 p.m. Tuesday, said Mike Vescio, with the National Weather Service in Pendleton.

Early fire reports were mainly in the same area of the Ochoco National Forest and Prineville BLM that were hit hard after storms just over a week ago, according to the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center. Many of the new starts were close to where the Ochoco Complex and Center fires are already burning. By 5 p.m. crews were dispatched across the region, and by 9 p.m. the center was responding to 40+ fires, with many of them already contained.

The weather service was predicting a possibility of more thunderstorms today, and there’s a slight chance of thunderstorms tonight.

Thunderstorms just over a week ago produced a bevy of wildfires around Central and Eastern Oregon, which have kept firefighters busy since — from Camp Sherman to Mitchell to Warm Springs.

As firefighters head to possible new fires, other fire crews are getting a handle on the fires started by the last thunderstorms.

The Oregon Department of Transportation this morning reopened a portion of U.S. Highway 26 between Prineville and Mitchell that had been closed for a week due to the Waterman Complex Fire.

Pilot cars were guiding traffic through the 5-mile stretch, so there may be 20-minute to two-hour delays, according to ODOT. The stretch is about 16 miles east from Prineville.

The Waterman Complex Fire has burned 12,520 acres, or nearly 20 square miles, since it started by lightning on July 11. Fire crews this morning reported the fires in the complex are now 75 percent contained.

Along with the reopening of the highway, the Crook County Sheriff’s Office this morning lowered evacuation warnings for about two dozen homes in Marks Creek to level 1, according to the team managing the fire. The level 1 warning means people should be ready to evacuate if necessary. A level 2 warning means people should be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice and a level 3 warning is an order for immediate evacuation.

A public meeting about the Waterman Complex and Ochoco Complex fires was set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Bowman Museum at 246 N. Main St., in Prineville. Started by lightning on July 13, the Ochoco Complex Fire near Prineville has burned 6,333 acres and this morning was 22 percent contained. Full containment is expected Sunday.

Updates on other fires include:

• Bridge 99 Complex Fire near Camp Sherman: 5,915 acres and 31 percent contained. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office lowered evacuation warnings for private land between Allen Springs Campground and Lake Billy Chinook lowered from level 3 to level 2, and for the Three Rivers subdivision from level 2 to level 1.

• Logging Unit Fires on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation: 9,500 acres and 5 percent contained.

• Shaniko Butte Fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation: 42,500 acres and 75 percent contained.

— Dylan J. Darling