Firefighters brace for more thunderstorms

Extra fire engines coming into Central Oregon

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin / @DylanJDarling

Five fire engines from Western Oregon are set to roll into Central Oregon today, in time to help snuff any new wildfires brought by thunderstorms.

“We are very concerned about the forecast,” George Ponte, Central Oregon district forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry said late Monday afternoon.

The National Weather Service on Monday issued a red flag warning for this afternoon. The warning, alerting fire crews to conditions prime for wildfire, starts at 2 and goes until 11 tonight. The weather service is calling for thunderstorms with abundant lightning around Central Oregon.

Typically the Oregon Department of Forestry, which protects state and private timberlands, has 10 fire engines and one bulldozer ready to fight wildfire in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties, Ponte said. A second bulldozer and a helicopter are set to come to Prineville today along with the five extra fire engines.

“We are bringing in some additional resources as we anticipate we will be very busy in initial attack,” he said.

The state’s arsenal may also include air tankers, which drop retardant. The U.S. Forest Service is also bracing for the expected storm today, having stationed a federal air tanker in Central Oregon.

“We know it’s coming and we’re ready for it,” said Kassidy Kern, spokeswoman for the Deschutes National Forest.

Along with the tanker, the agency has an assortment of hand crews, fire engines and smokejumpers that will be strategically positioned today.

The National Weather Service also issued a red flag warning last Wednesday for Central Oregon. Thunderstorms Wednesday and Thursday peppered Central Oregon with 3,000 lightning strikes, starting more than two dozen small wildfires.

The storms forecast for today aren’t expected to bring much rain with them, said Roger Cloutier, a forecaster with the weather service in Pendleton. The potential for lightning combined with the low likelihood of rain and the recent run of hot, dry days make for weather conducive to wildfire.

Although the thunderstorms are expected only this afternoon, the hot and dry weather should persist.

“It is going to continue for at least the next 10 days,” Cloutier said. Today should have a high of 93 degrees, and the rest of the week through the weekend should be at least in the high 80s.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com