UPDATE: Lightning ignites fires in southern Malheur County

Thunderstorms sparked six wildfires in southern Malheur County Monday night and prompted the Vale District of the Bureau of Land Management to deploy eight engines and other resources. (The Enterprise/File).

UPDATE: This includes new information on Tuesday afternoon.

VALE – Thunderstorms lit up the local skies Monday afternoon and continued overnight, sparking six wildfires in the southern part of the county, the Bureau of Land Management said today.  

The Vale District of the BLM dispatched eight engines as well as aviation resources to the fires this morning. 

The fires are burning near Grassy Mountain, Owyhee Dam, Arock, Antelope Canyon, Corbin Creek south of Rome and Basque Flats. 

Corbin Creek, the biggest blaze which is south of Rome and east of Dry Creek, is 215 acres, and the Basque Flats fire, directly south of Harney Lake and to the southwest of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, is 80 acres. 

In addition to two fires identified Monday, firefighters have been battling four more fires from Tuesday’s lightning activity, as well as responding to numerous strikes and potential starts throughout the day. 

The BLM is reporting that the 530-acre Basque Flat fire as well as the Owyhee Dam and Corbin Creek fires were contained.

On Tuesday afternoon, the BLM reported on two more fires caused by lightning. A 20-acre Anderson Crossing fire 10 miles northeast of McDermitt, Nevada, and an approximately 1,500-acre Drummond Basin fire five miles south of Three Forks where Fields Creek Reservoir Road and Fenwick Ranch Road meet. Both fires were actively spreading.  

Six engines, one water tender, and 44 firefighters have been deployed to the Drummond Basin fire which threatens wilderness study area, priority sage grouse habitat, big horn sheep habitat, big game winter range, wild and scenic river, and range allotments.

Three engines and one dozer have been deployed to the Anderson Crossing fire which also threatens priority sage grouse habitat. 

According to the BLM, the Blue Mountain, Jordan Valley and Vale Rangeland Fire Protection Associations are providing initial attack assistance, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is sending additional resources. 

Southeast Oregon remains under a red flag warning issued by the Boise National Weather Service until midnight tonight. Meteorologists from the National Weather Service are warning that conditions in Malheur County are ripe for fires, due to “critical fuels and abundant lightning” expected this evening in addition to 40 mile per hour winds and drier and cooler conditions expected Wednesday. 

With the drier weather, the BLM is imposing additional fire use restrictions on all its lands effective Monday, July 29.

“The light fuels that characterize the rangeland in this area take very little time to dry out with wind and higher temperatures,” Tracy Skerjanec, Vale District deputy fire management officer said. “We constantly evaluate the fuel conditions in the district, and we’ve seen the moisture levels dropping significantly to warrant the additional restrictions.”

Vale Fire Mitigation and Education Specialist Al Crouch said, “live fuel moisture levels are low enough to create an increase in fire behavior, making fires more difficult to control.”

“The levels are approaching the threshold that would warrant public use restrictions.”

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