Nineteen wildfires began over the weekend in Oregon, many started by lightning strikes, as the wildfire season begins in earnest in the state.
Some of the fires have triggered scattered evacuation warnings, closed a 60-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail near Crater Lake and shut down some campgrounds.
Lightning started the 400-acre Potter fire on Sunday, burning near Potter Mountain in the Umpqua National Forest, as officials reported nearly 900 lightning strikes in the 24 hours that ended at 8 a.m. Monday.
It’s one of three large fires now burning in Oregon. The others are the nearby 1,500-acre Windigo fire that started Friday in the Umpqua National Forest and the 425-acre Big Rattlesnake fire just southwest of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
Lightning sparked the Big Rattlesnake fire on Sunday on public and private land, but fire officials don’t know the cause of the Windigo fire, which began Saturday.
Lightning remained a fire-starter threat through Monday as thunderstorms were in the forecast, said Carol Connolly, a spokesperson for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, which oversees fires in Oregon and Washington.
The Potter and Windigo fires closed the Kelsay Valley Horse Camp, Kelsay Valley Forest Camp, Connie Lake and Linda Lake as well as trails nearby. The Pacific Crest Trail was closed from Oregon 138 (mile 1,848 at the northern boundary of Crater Lake National Park) to Oregon 58 (mile 1,908 at Willamette Pass).
Near the Big Rattlesnake fire, the Baker County Sheriff’s Office labeled the area west of Oregon 203 as a Level 1 evacuation — “Be Ready” — while residents east of the highway no longer have an evacuation order.
The highway at one point was closed to all traffic except for emergency vehicles and local residents.
All three of the bigger fires remained at 0% containment as of Monday morning.
It’s too early to say if the wildfires now burning bode for a busy season, Connolly said.
Recent temperatures hitting near 100 and above in Oregon aren’t to blame for the start of the wildfires, but they can contribute to the spread of active fires because of dry ground conditions, she said.
“Our fire season runs the gamut. We’ve had our firefighters on duty since early spring and they’ve been assisting in other states,” Connolly said. “When you look at fire starts and causes, we can’t predict where that lighting is coming in. The one thing we can do is reduce the risk from our human-caused fires.”
To that end, Connolly urged people planning outdoor adventures to check the fire safety rules before arriving and ensure that they put out all open flames before leaving the area.
Though not burning in Oregon, the McKinney fire on the state’s border with California near Yreka is one of the biggest wildfires in the region. The fire grew 5,000 acres into Monday, totaling over 55,000 acres since its start Friday.
Marion, Linn and Clackamas county firefighters have been dispatched to Yreka County to help.