Central Oregon fire numbers surge

Lots of lighting so far, more thunderstorms ahead

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin / @DylanJDarling


Thunder, lightning and then a new wildfire — it’s a pattern that has repeated itself hundreds of times this busy fire season in Central Oregon.

With weeks still remaining in fire season, firefighters have already responded to more fires than the 10-year average, said Lisa Clark, spokeswoman for the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville. The 10-year average is 363 wildfires, small and large, in the Deschutes and Ochoco national forests, the Prineville District of the Bureau of Land management and lands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry in Central Oregon. So far this year there have been 462 fires.

A hefty load of lightning, with about 2,500 strikes alone during the thunderstorm Sunday afternoon and evening, has contributed to the hectic Central Oregon fire season.

“We’ve had a lot of lightning storms, each one putting down a lot of lightning strikes,” Clark said. She said lightning has caused most of the wildfires so far this summer.

The number of acres charred by wildfire this season has also far surpassed the Central Oregon 10-year average, she said. The 10-year average is 35,000 acres, or more than 54 square miles, burned.

So far this year more than 260,000 acres, or more than 400 square miles, have burned here.

The big acreage is the result of wildfires burning over rangeland, charging through juniper, grass and shrubs.

“Range fires tend to burn a lot more acres,” Clark said.

Examples include the 30,200-acre Pine Creek Complex Fire, which consisted of four fires between Madras and Fossil, and the 65,000-acre South Fork Complex Fire 20 miles southwest of John Day. Lightning caused those fires.

There likely will be at least a couple more weeks of weather conducive to thunderstorms, said Robert Cramp, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pendleton.

“Thunderstorm season will start diminishing rapidly as we get into mid-September,” he said.

But wildfires remain a possibility even as the likelihood of lightning decreases in Central Oregon.

“It is not unusual to have a large fire in the middle of September,” Clark said.

Recent fires underscore her point, including the 26,000-acre Pole Creek Fire in 2012. Fire investigators say lightning sparked that blaze the weekend of Sept. 8.

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