BEND, Ore. - (Update: Adding Wednesday thunderstorms, viewer video)
The National Weather Service in Pendleton has issued a "red flag" fire weather warning for much of Central and north-central Oregon from 1 p.m to midnight Wednesday, predicting "abundant lightning" from thunderstorms that could ignite dry, fine fuels across lower-level grasslands.
The red flag warning stretches from the east slopes of the Central and Northern Oregon Cascades to the Lower Columbia Basin, Blue Mountain foothills and into eastern Washington.
While some "brief heavy rainfall" is possible as the storms move through, "fringe areas ... will see spotty precipitation," forecasters said.
"Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly." the NWS advised.
A round of thunderstorms rumbled through much of the High Desert on Tuesday, sparking several fires that were caught small and quickly. Another round of thunderstorms, more intense, hit the region Wednesday, bringing heavy hail to some locations and downpours to others (but little or no moisture elsewhere).
But one lightning-sparked fire, the Cottonwood Fire, broke out Tuesday afternoon and burned 37 acres of private land in the Cottonwood Creek area about four miles southeast of the Grant County town of Dayville, BLM officials said.
BLM, Forest Service and Wheeler County Rural Fire Protection Agency crews responded to the scene. Crews used a retardant drop to stop the spread of the fire and lined it with bulldozers and a hand crew Tuesday night.
The fire was mapped Wednesday morning at 37 acres. Crews were to do mop-up Wednesday and prepare for any new starts from the new round of storms.
The return of hot and dry weather has prompted fire managers on public lands in Central Oregon to raise the fire danger level to high, officials said Tuesday.
Officials said the increased fire danger level means:
- All fine dead fuels ignite readily and fires start easily from any cause.
- Unattended brush and campfires are likely to escape.
- Fires spread rapidly and short-distance spotting is common.
- High intensity burning may develop on slopes, or in concentrations of fine fuel.
- Fires may become serious and their control difficult unless they are hit hard and fast while small.
Officials said to remember that on public lands, abandoned campfires are the No. 1 one source of human-caused wildfires. Most of these campfires stay small and are easy for firefighters to put out, but it only takes one to threaten lives, destroy property and change a beautiful area forever. Here are some simple steps to properly build and put out a campfire:
START IT RIGHT
- Make sure it's legal to have a campfire!
- Keep your fire small and manageable
- Keep your fire contained inside a fire ring or clear an area and build your own ring
- NEVER leave your campfire unattended – even if you're just leaving for a few hours
- Have a shovel and water available
- Keep your firewood stored at least 10 feet away from your ring
STOP IT RIGHT
- Slowly add water to put out all flames
- Stir, scrape and separate coals
- Add water until the steaming stops
- Feel for heat using the back of your hand over the coals.
- Continue to add water and stir until no heat remains
Whether accidental or intentional, people start wildfires every year in Central Oregon. These wildfires cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to suppress and endanger lives and our natural resources. Let's all do our part to protect these places we live by being diligent with our ignitions and leaving all fireworks at home.