• As Southern Oregon wildfires grow, new lightning storms expected on Sunday

    By: USA Today

    Updated:

    The wildfires burning across Southern Oregon had already brought major problems to fire teams and local residents during the past week.

    Now, they’ll face another challenge: lightning storms expected to hit the area Sunday.

    A red flag warning was issued by the National Weather Service due to scattered thunderstorms likely this afternoon and evening.

    The lightning strikes appear most likely along the Oregon and California border, and into Northern California.

    That could be bad news for the Hendrix and Natchez fires , burning near Ashland. 

    More: Yosemite wildfire doubles in size, could 'become a major threat'

    “Lightning and high fire danger will likely result in new fire starts,” the National Weather Service warning said. “Gusty thunderstorm winds could contribute to fire spread. Despite rainfall, initial attack resources could be overwhelmed and holdover fires are possible.”

    Ironically, weather conditions are expected to improve around the Taylor Creek and Garner Complex fires to the north. Those fires have brought the greatest danger to towns such as Wimer and Grants Pass, meteorologists said. 

    "It might get worse in some locations, but here on the Garner Complex and for the fires more northerly in Oregon, the winds actually got better and calmed down last night," NWS meteorologist  Tom Wright said. "Conditions are still very hot, but we're not going to have the critical fire conditions we've been seeing, at least in our area." 

    Even though it might be slightly good news for the most critical of Southern Oregon's fires, any new fires in the region will stretch resources thin, Wright said. 

    "The concern is that if there's new fires, some of our resources will have to go out on initial attack," he said. "We're already pretty stretched." 

    There are currently eight major wildfires or multi-fire complexes, and five regions with evacuation warnings in place. 

    Air quality in the region has ranged from moderate to unhealthy. This map is the best way to track air quality. 

    Here’s a breakdown of the situation on each of the fires. The best map for tracking the fires and evacuations can be found here.

    Taylor Creek Fire (evacuations west of Merlin and Grants Pass)

    The most active and dangerous fire of the past few days has been the Taylor Creek Fire, burning west of Grants Pass and Merlin.

    The fire continued to grow Saturday, reaching almost 3,000 acres and bringing a fresh round of evacuations in the populated areas near Merlin area.

    “It’s definitely spreading,” said Tina Young, public information officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry. “It’s a tough one to get at directly, so we’ve been working contingency lines around the fire to hold it in place, while we have almost 30 aircraft assigned doing drops from above.”

    More: 'Sudden' tornadoes rip through Iowa damaging homes, buildings

    Young said the fire spread to the south Saturday, toward the Limpy Creek and Shan Creek areas.

    The good news is that conditions are expected to become less windy, officials said. 

    For a full breakdown on evacuations, see this website or call 541-474-5305.

    The Taylor Creek Fire is now being managed as part of the Garner Creek Complex, even though it's in a different location. 

    Grave Creek / Garner Complex (evacuations near Wimer)

    The largest and most problematic complex of wildfires in Southern Oregon is centered around Wimer, north of Rogue River and Interstate 5. 

    One day after an emergency declaration from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown allowed the State Fire Marshal to add resources to firefighting efforts, the fire continued to grow. 

    Multiple evacuations surround the Garner Complex, impacting more than 60 homes.

    On Saturday, the three Grave Fires grew together and are now one fire of 3,792 acres.

    More: Teen who started major Oregon wildfire must pay $36.6 million for damages, judge rules

    The Pleasant Fire (599 acres), which has also brought evacuations, and Ditch Creek Fire (142 acres), are still having control lines built by hand and equipment, fire teams said Sunday morning.

    The good news is that Spencer Fires, King Mountain Fire and Swamp Fire “have been lined, plumbed and are in mop-up,” fire teams said.

    The best place to track information on Garner is its official Facebook page here.

    Hendrix Fire (evacuation warnings near Rush)

    This could be a dangerous day on the Hendrix Fire. 

    The wildfire southwest of Ashland, in the Little Applegate River area, grew to 1,057 acres by Sunday morning and is 15 percent contained. 

    But it will likely see some thunderstorm activity today. 

    "There is a Red Flag Warning today due to a slight chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, with the possibility of abundant lightning," the Hendrix Fire teams said in a morning report. 

    More: California wildfire burns 30,500 acres, destroys 72 structures: What we know

    "Firefighters are prepared to initial attack any new fire starts if they occur. The fire is expected to become more active today, as atmospheric conditions become more unstable with a shift in the weather." 

    The Hendrix Fire already has evacuation warnings in place for around 35 homes near Ruch in Applegate Valley area. 

    It has also closed a large area of roads and trails in the region, including 13 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from Observation Gap to the Grouse Gap Shelter. 

    A public meeting is planned for 6 p.m. Sunday at the Ruch Branch Library. The meeting will also be livestreamed. There are 467 personnel currently working the fire.

    For details on evacuations, see this post.

    South Umpqua Complex (evacuation warnings near Tiller)

    This complex of six larger wildfires and numerous smaller ones continued to grow on Saturday, reaching 3,469 acres — almost 1,200 acres of growth in the past 24 hours. 

    Located between Crater Lake and Interstate 5 near Myrtle Creek, the fires have brought evacuations to the Tiller area and closures of roads and trails.

    More: 'The smoke was horrible': Hot, dry weather hampers crews battling wildfire near Yosemite

    The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office issued a level 2 evacuation warning, meaning “get set” to go at any moment, for six homes on Tison Road.

    Several trails were also closed in Diamond Lake Ranger District, North Umpqua Ranger District and Tiller Ranger District. More than a dozen roads are also closed in the Tiller Ranger District.

    For more details on the South Umpqua Complex, including more details on closures, click here

    Natchez Fire (closures near Siskiyou Wilderness)

    The Natchez Fire, located 15 miles south of Cave Junction, continued to grow Sunday morning. 

    Due to the growth, a large area on the Oregon and California border — near the Siskiyou Wilderness southeast of Cave Junction — was closed. 

    It's unclear the exact size of the fire, according to fire teams. 

    Kalmiopsis Wilderness Fires (evacuations near Selma and Illinois River)

    There are two active wildfires burning on the east side of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness west of Selma — the Klondike and Granite fires.

    Both appear to be growing, although acres numbers wasn't avalable  

    "This area is very rugged and has been unsafe to put members into the fire area," fire teams reported Sunday morning. "A strategy is being developed to limit the growth of the fires using air resources and old fire lines and existing roads in the area.

    More: 'Extreme' California wildfire doubles in size as it roars into Oregon

    "A team of fire experts is being assembled to develop a long term strategy for controlling these fires." 

    The growth of the Klondike Fire drew a level 2 evacuation warning for the residences in Oak Flat, located west of Selma in the Illinois River corridor.

    Level 2 means "get set" to go at any moment.

    Timber Crater 6 Fire

    The wildfire burning in a remote area of Crater Lake National Park grew to 702 acres Saturday, but the park and all its attractions remain open.

    Timber Crater 6 Fire, ignited by a lightning strike and located in the northeast corner of the park, is being staffed by 157 firefighters and two helicopters attempting to suppress the blaze.

    More: More than 30 homes 'total losses' in Florida wildfire; 22 buildings also destroyed in 2 California fires

    Smoky conditions have been present at the park, due to both this fire and the numerous other blazes burning across Southern Oregon. 

    Even so, all trails, boat tours, roads and buildings remain open as usual, officials said in a news release.

    Sugar Pine fires

    There are numerous small to medium sized wildfires burning north of Prospect and Tiller on either side of Oregon Highway 62 south of Crater Lake.

    Collectively they have burned 326 acres and are known as Sugar Pine, which is also the name of the largest of those fires.

    More: California firefighter dies while battling blaze near Yosemite National Park

    The titular Sugar Pine Fire is 250 acres and crews were still establishing an access rout to the blaze Saturday morning. 

    There could be slow-moving traffic in the area, particularly near the Highway 62 entrances to Joseph Steward State Park

    Other active fires in the area include:

    Round Top — 125 acres

    Union — 104 acres

    Goodview — 77 acres

    Elk Horn — 10 acres

    Junction — 8 acres

    Wagner Creek Complex in Jackson County

    This complex of around 12 fires in Jackson County is in mop-up as of Saturday, a "success story," said Ferguson, the public information officer.

    These fires include: Trail Creek, Elk Creek, Green Top Mountain, Sterling Creek and Railroad Gap. The complex burned at least 250 acres.

    Follow Zach Urness and Connor Radnovich on Twitter: @ZachsORoutdoors and @CDRadnovich

    Next Up: