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Fire crews searching for ‘sleeper fires’ after C.O. lightning storms

(Update: adding video, new info, comments from Oregon Dept. of Forestry officials)

Oregon Department of Forestry official said sleeper fires are "100%" on their radar over next few days

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- With hundreds of lightning strikes rolling through Central Oregon over the last couple of days, smoldering "sleeper fires" are now a concern for crews in the area.

A sleeper fire is one that can lay dormant for days, sometimes even a couple weeks, before it kicks up and smoke and flames become visible. This can and usually does happen after a series of days of lightning, combined with hot temperatures.

Since Central Oregon is expecting to hit triple-digit temperatures by the weekend, crews expect that to literally add fuel to the fire.

Christie Shaw, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Forestry, told NewsChannel 21 Wednesday these sleeper fires are "100%" on their radar for the next two weeks.

Eric Metzger, a forest officer with the Oregon Department of Forestry, added, "If there's anything out there that's smoldering right now, it's very likely to pop up and start burning in the next few days."

On Wednesday, Metzger escorted NewsChannel 21 to the top of Henkle Butte, five miles northeast of Sisters.

That's the site of the Department of Forestry's only staffed lookout in Central Oregon.

For about half the week, Glenn Corbett is up there searching for smoke.

“When there's a fire, you sight through the sighting scope on the fire,” Corbett said, walking NewsChannel 21 through her workflow. “Then, I usually come around to (the other) side of the map. I identify where the fire is. I would write it down, then come over here (pick up the radio mic) and talk to dispatch."

The Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Redmond will assign a crew to go inspect that location.

Metzger helped by accessing a lightning tracker, which updates on the spot.

“Where the strikes are red or purple, I think those are the last hour, and I think purple is the last couple hours,” Metzger said, looking at the screen. “So this is practically real time. The black strikes are 24 hours ago."

The state agency also has crew members flying around in a reconnaissance plane, looking for smoke, along with people surveying 13 cameras at other lookout locations from their office at the COIDC.

That way, they can have eyes in the air and on the ground, to keep people as safe as possible.

Central Oregon / Fire Alert / Local News / Top Stories
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Max Goldwasser

Max Goldwasser is a reporter and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Max here.


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