Lightning Strikes Plus Droughts Equals More Wildfires

Oregon is continuing to suffer from an exceptionally dry summer due to varying levels of droughts currently being felt all over the state. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 24 percent of Oregon is experiencing exceptional drought, 73 percent is experiencing extreme drought, and 96 percent is experiencing severe drought. An extended period of abnormally parched lands is already a perfect fuel for more wildfires to flare up and spread quickly, and when multiple lightning storms backed by little rain or none at all continue to be added to the mix, the inevitability is that much greater.

Earlier this month, on August 2, the bone-dry forests of Southern Oregon were struck by lightning bolts hundreds of times over a 24-hour-period, triggering roughly 50 new wildfires. The adjacent Bootleg Fire, currently the largest wildfire in the U.S. and the third largest wildfire in Oregon’s history, was also ignited by lightning — and it continued to blaze less than 100 miles away.

Lightning has contributed to instigating many of the state’s current large wildfires or complexes, including the Middle Fork complex, Skyline Ridge complex, and Devil’s Knob complex, which still have little to no containment. As recently as Thursday afternoon, dry thunderstorms in Klamath and Lake counties resulted in two new large wildfires — the Patton Meadow Fire and the Willow Valley Fire, the former of which prompted Governor Kate Brown to invoke the Emergency Conflagration Act for the third time this month.

Oregon fire officials are currently bracing for some potentially challenging days ahead. The combination of dangerously hot temperatures and ongoing drought conditions greatly increase the risk of dry thunderstorms, which are expected to form over the weekend.

“We have a tough forecast for the next few days,” said Doug Grafe, Oregon Department of Forestry Chief of Fire Protection, to Oregon Public Broadcasting on Thursday.

By: Kayla Mosley