By ANDREW SELSKY for the Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Lightning bolts struck the parched forests of southern Oregon hundreds of times in 24 hours, igniting some 50 new wildfires even as the nation’s largest wildfire continued to burn less than 100 miles (161 kilometers) away, officials said on Monday.
State, federal and contracted firefighters, augmented by helicopters and planes dropping fire retardant, pounced on the new wildfires in national forests in southwest Oregon before they could spread out of control. The largest one was estimated at up to 5 acres (2 hectares).
Thunderstorms unleashed some 700 lightning bolts that hit the ground and also brought rain to some places, but left others dry while triggering multiple fires, said Margueritte Hickman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.
Firefighters and support personnel worked through the night to locate and extinguish fires.
“After a storm like this, it’s important to quickly and efficiently suppress these fires when they’re small, not only to protect our communities, but to free up firefighting resources to provide aggressive initial attack on the next fire,” says Dan Quinones, fire staff officer for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
The Oregon Department of Forestry estimated the number of new fires at 50. No towns or homes were immediately threatened.
The Bootleg Fire, at 647 square miles (1,676 square kilometers) the nation’s largest, was 84% contained Monday, though it isn’t expected to be fully contained until Oct. 1. Such megafires don’t usually burn out until late fall or early winter when moisture increases and temperature decreases.
Firefighters driving bulldozers straightened the ragged edge of a fire line that had been gouged out by firefighters to keep the Bootleg Fire from spreading further east, the firefighting command center said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will travel to Oregon and attend a briefing Tuesday with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on wildfire response, prevention and preparedness efforts.
Vilsack is co-chair of the Biden Administration’s Wildfire Resilience Interagency Working Group and Interagency Drought Relief Working Group.