(Update: COIDC Tuesday 8 p.m. update)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Intense thunderstorms rumbled through Central Oregon Tuesday afternoon, hitting the region with hundreds of lightning strikes that had fire crews from numerous agencies scrambling to catch dozens of fires ignited around the area, stopping most at small sizes.
In its 8 p.m. Tuesday update, the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center said the tri-county area (Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson counties) of Central Oregon received over 1,000 lightning strikes in the past 48 hours.
Over 100 fires were reported to COIDC Tuesday, with more coming in every hour. Most of the fires are staffed with firefighters and fires are reported at less than a quarter-acre in size. Firefighters continue to work their way in to some of the more remote fires and are working to locate some of the reported fires.
The Doghouse Gulch Fire, located near the South Fork of the John Day River drainage, was the largest of the fires reported Tuesday, estimated at 16 acres. Single-engine air tankers and helicopters are being used to slow the fire, allowing ground resources to engage directly.
Meanwhile, smokejumpers are working a cluster of fires near Cultus Lake, all of which are estimated to be less than a quarter of an acre or single-tree fires. They will continue to build fireline and mop-up these incidents until the work is completed.
As vegetation dries out over the next few days and seasonable warm weather returns, more holdover fires are expected. These fires are initially dampened by the rain that comes with the thunderstorms and creep around smoldering until growing large enough to be detected.
To reduce the potential of these fires becoming large fires before they are reported, daily flights will be conducted, with observers looking for smoke and fires. In addition to these “recon” flights, thermal and infrared technology will be used at night, as conditions allow, to detect heat and fire from specialty detection aircraft.
Early detection of wildfires results in less damage to natural resources, less smoke impacts to public health, and less damage to personal property and life, COIDC said.
In Central Oregon the Deschutes and Ochoco national forests, Crooked River National Grassland, Bureau of Land Management Prineville District and Oregon Department of Forestry work cooperatively to detect and respond to wildfires across the landscape.
Manned lookouts, smoke detection cameras, thermal/infrared technology, and recon flights are all used to detect fires at the smallest possible size.
Additionally, firefighters use maps of lightning strikes to patrol and look for fires. This coordinated response of resources and detection assets allows firefighters to focus on fire suppression activities across all ownerships.
The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag (fire weather) Warning that was in effect until 9 p.m. Tuesday.
The NWS in Pendleton also issued a special weather statement around 12:40 p.m., warning of a string of strong thunderstorms extending from east of Sunriver to east of Millican, moving north at 50 mph and packing winds gusting to 55 mph. Forecasters also reported another strong thunderstorm around 1:1 5p.m. near Tumalo, quickly moving north.
Jakki Carter, who works remotely from her home on Britta Street in northwest Bend, saw some flashes of lightning outside her home office window and caught on camera one strike that ignited a fire down a tall tree nearby.
It was one of many trees struck by lightning bolts around the region Tuesday afternoon as fire crews rushed to put them out. Some buildings apparently were hit as well.
Due to heavy rain, police said the Greenwood Avenue and Third Street underpasses were flooding and urged motorists to avoid the areas for a time.
About 500 Pacific Power customers were without service at mid-afternoon, down to only about a dozen by evening.
Other utilities reported outages as well. Redmond-based Central Electric Cooperative had members affected in the Tumalo area, southeast Bend and the Marks Creek/Ochoco Ranger Station area. About 480 members were affected, said Brent ten Pas, CEC’s director of member and public relations. About 60 were without power Tuesday evening, according to an outage map.
In southern Deschutes County, Midstate Electric Cooperative reported outages Tuesday evening from La Pine to the north, east and west. An outage map showed some 750 members without service.
The utility urged people to not approached downed lines or debris in the lines, and instead keep a safe distance and call 800-752-5935 to report an outage, debris on a line or other issues.
The heavy rain also brought mudslides in southeast Oregon that closed a 13-mile stretch of state Highway 140 between Lakeview and Adel late Tuesday.
ODOT said a detour was established on Plush Cutoff Road, but this road is not accessible to over-dimensional loads. The detour is well signed and staffed, they said, and will be in place through the night. Crews are working to clear the highway; ODOT urged drivers to use caution and expect delays.
It had already been a busy day, with more than a dozen smoke reports checked earlier by Central Oregon fire crews around the region.
After a stormy, lightning-filled night in the Bend area, a lightning strike on a transmission line east of town Tuesday morning knocked out power to about 34,000 Pacific Power customers for up to almost two hours.
The outage began around 6:45 a.m., when lightning hit a transmission line by U.S. Highway 20 at Ward Road, utility spokesman Drew Hanson said.
At its height, 34,000 customers were without service, Hanson said, but “crews got to work right away” and restored power to about half of those affected within a half-hour. All were restored by about 8:30 a.m., although the outage map showed a few small scattered lingering outages affecting only about a dozen customers.