June 18, 2002
Serving Western Deschutes County
Sisters, Oregon

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Lightning sparks fires in Sisters country
By Jim Cornelius

A booming thunderstorm that rolled swiftly across the Sisters country Thursday night, June 13, left behind a half-dozen lightning fires.

"We've got six small lightning fires this morning," reported Lorri Heath, Fire Management Officer for the Sisters Ranger District, on Friday.

One fire, dubbed the Street Creek Fire, gained some ground, growing to about 45 acres and requiring an aggressive attack.

The fire burned southwest of Lake Billy Chinook in ponderosa pine stands between the Perry South and Monty Campgrounds near where the Metolius River flows into Lake Billy Chinook.

An air tanker, helicopter and eight smokejumpers worked to contain the blaze in steep, rocky country. In addition, the Redmond Hotshots and two 20-person contract crews were ordered to the fire.

The fire was contained Sunday night.

The 194-acre Geneva fire burned 11 miles northeast of Sisters on Oregon Department of Forestry land and the Crooked River National Grassland. That fire, too, was contained Sunday night.

The other fires were small and quickly knocked down, although a fire off Stevens Canyon Road required mobilization of several units from the Sisters-Camp Sherman Rural Fire Protection District.

Heath said conditions are a couple of weeks ahead of average in terms of potential fire threat.

"We've had a lot more lightning than usual around here this spring and fuel conditions are dry, especially at lower elevations," she said.

Heath was unable to determine how many lightning strikes occurred during the fast-moving storm.

"Our lightning detection equipment system went down about 5 p.m. last night," she said Friday.

Lightning detection helps fire managers stage resources in areas that are heavily hit, but actual fires are still found the old-fashioned way -- by spotting smoke.

"We had people come in early (Friday) and we got our lookouts up early, which is our best resource," said Heath.

According to Heath, the storm was a pretty dry one.

"I think we got rain in parts of it, but I think it was widely scattered," she said.

Lightning storms keep firefighters on edge for days. Fires can "hold over" smoldering in trees or creeping along the ground without putting out visible smoke.

Then, a dry wind can pick up and turn a small blaze into a bigger one.

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