BEND, Ore. - A helicopter was called in Wednesday to dip its bucket into Paulina Lake and drop water on a wildfire about a half-mile to the north, the largest of a few fires apparently sparked by more than 750 lightning strikes across Central Oregon on Tuesday, officials said.
Three of the five smoke reports turned in by fire lookouts turned out to be blazes, the other two being caught even smaller, about 1/10th of an acre, on the East Fort Rock Ranger District, said Forest Service spokeswoman Kassidy Kern.
A five-person hand crew was on the fire of less than an acre, Incident 255, north of Paulina Lake. Engine crew 635 was hiking in to assist, a 90-minute trip from the other side of the lake since there are no roads in the vicinity, Kern said. A Type III (light) helicopter planned to make a couple of bucket drops on the blaze.
A reconnaissance flight was planned over the region Wednesday to help look for any more sleeper or holdover fires that might emerge on another hot day, 24 hours after parts of the High Desert were hit with a string of thunderstorms.
With more lightning expected late in the week, Kern said a task force of five Western Oregon fire engine crews from the Willamette and Siuslaw national forests and the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde will stay in Central Oregon to assist in initial attack efforts, Kern said.
Another round of summer thunderstorms flashed and rumbled their way through the High Desert Tuesday afternoon and evening, peppering the region with hundreds of lightning strikes, one of which sparked a house fire on Bend's Eastside and a few others that ignited small wildfires crews quickly tackled.
Another Bend resident said tornado-like storm winds sent the top of a tall tree crashing to the ground, barely missing his house.
Shortly after 7 p.m. came word of an attic fire at a home in the 21000 block of SE Chilliwack Way, east of 27th Street. Crews arrived to find light smoke coming from the roof vents, said Bend Fire Battalion Chief Dave Howe. Crews quickly put out a fire in one room, causing about $40,000 in damage to the structure and contents.
While some thought the home was struck by lightning, Howe said a power company official found that the electrical transformer feeding the home was hit by lightning. The investigation continues, but Howe said it appears the fire probably was caused by a power surge from lightning hitting the transformer.
The Red Cross said it provided recovery and disaster help information to the two adults living in the home.
Lightning also struck Pacific Power equipment on Bend's Eastside shortly before 7 p.m., knocking out service to 117 customers, a spokesman said. Power was restored around 9:15 p.m.
Woodriver Village resident Edward Haverly said they were sitting on their porch when what he called a "tornado" blew through with intense winds and toppled the top 40 feet of a Ponderosa pine on his property, narrowly missing the house.
"We were very lucky we weren't killed," Haverly said. "I've lived here 25 years and I've never seen anything like it."
There were more than 750 lightning strikes recorded over a broad swath of Central Oregon, extending south to portions of the Fremont-Winema National Forest, said Jada Altman of the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville.
Five smoke columns were spotted by lookouts, and crews found one of the two in a small fire doused near Finley Butte.
But officials said a fire that burned a half-acre of private land two miles south of Skull Hollow Campground, near Smith Rock, was not caused by lightning but a human-caused debris burn that escaped and was tackled by Crook County and BLM fire crews.
The heavy rainfall – at a rate of nearly three inches an hour, according to NewsChannel 21 meteorologist Travis Knudsen – no doubt put a damper on things and kept even more fires from breaking out. But other areas got little or no rain, so the watch for sleeper or holdover fires will begin as temperatures stay hot for the next several days.
Speaking of heat, the storms also did what they often do on the High Desert -- cool things down fast. Bend Airport was still sizzling at its high of 93 degrees at 5:15 p.m. – but had plunged nearly 20 degrees, to 75 degrees by around 8 p.m.