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Fire managers track storms, smoke and flames


Six fires were ignited in southeast Deschutes County early Wednesday morning due to thunderstorms across the area. Thunderstorm season usually begins in July and runs until early September, and officials with the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center say they’re getting busy.

“Yes, it does get busy — we watch the weather pretty close. Yesterday (Tuesday), we knew that we were going to have lightning, so we staffed up,” Valerie Reed, COIDC’s assistant manager, said Wednesday.

Reed and her team are responsible for managing Central Oregon’s wildfire fighting resources.

“Our busiest time of year is usually in July and August,” Reed said. “People start calling in and we start plotting fires, as we call it, on the map, and then send resources to them.”

The interagency center uses maps to keep track of where fires are burning. Lookouts will report the direction they see smoke. When they cross-reference the direction with a second lookout, they get a good idea of where the reported wildfire is.

In regards to lightning, thunderstorms with lots of rain are not as much of a concern as dry storms.

“On those days when it’s been dry for five or six days, and then we get dry lightning, those days tend to be a little more intense,” Reed said.

While lightning is the most common and least controllable fire-starter, Reed still stresses that human-caused fires are also a concern.

“(I want) to have people still be careful with those human-caused fires,” Reed said. “I know we’ve talking about lightning a lot, but human-caused fires are still a threat for us, and people should be careful with their campfires and make sure they are all the way out.”

According to COIDC, the percentage of human- vs. lightning-caused fires varies, depending upon the area. On average, about 60 to 70 percent of wildfires are started by lightning.

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