Thunder, lightning and hail storms across Central Oregon on Saturday knocked out power for thousands and caused numerous fire starts in nearby forests.
Clouds rolled in over Bend at around 1:30 p.m., with the first showers and hail starting at 2 p.m.
Showers continued off and on throughout the evening with loud thunder claps and lightning strikes streaking across the sky.
People from Bend, to Redmond, to La Pine sent in photos and video of hail stones the size of quarters and moments of lightning strikes.
At 7:30 p.m., Pacific Power maps showed there were 10,405 power outages throughout the Bend area. By midday on Sunday, that number had been reduced to three outages.
Hundreds of lightning strikes caused 10 single-tree starts on Deschutes National Forest and Prineville BLM lands east of Bend on Saturday.
Another fire started in the Mill Creek Wilderness on the Ochoco National Forest later in the day, and smokejumpers were sent to contain the flames on Sunday.
Kassidy Kern, a Fire Communications Specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, said on Sunday that firefighters had responded to 16 fire new fire starts since the storm began Saturday across the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests, Crooked River National Grassland, and Prineville District BLM lands.
The largest of those fires have been five and seven acres, though they were both extinguished by significant rains.
Between 40 and 50 firefighters are working Sunday to contain remaining starts.
“That number is really in flux because there are new starts, and we’re containing previous starts, so people are coming out as the need dictates,” Kern said.
She said they haven’t had the need for aircraft help, but they have had smoke jumpers working on a fire in the Mill Creek Wilderness.
Fire risk over the rest of the weekend, she said, is ‘consistent’.
“Because we’re having some moderate temperates, I don’t think we’re going to see any extreme fire behavior,” Kern said. “But because we are anticipating lightning tonight, we should all be diligent because we’ve gotten a lot of lightning already, and that puts us at risk for some holdover fires.”
Holdover fires are caused by lightning strikes that don’t initially cause fires, and the heat and energy left over sits and chews on whatever fuel is available like grasses and roots. A fire can emerge from that within 14 days of the initial strike.
“This is the first real lightning storm that we’ve had, and this is very normal for this time of year,” Kern added. “Luckily we’ve had a lot of precipitation in the last 6-8 weeks, and that’s really helped our fuels to be really green so they’re less susceptible to fires. That doesn’t mean get complacent, but it means our firefighters have been able to get to those starts, get rid of them quickly, and move on to the next thing. So we’ve been really responsive in keeping things small.”
Reconnaissance aircraft was sent over Central Oregon on Sunday to help spot new flames.
There is a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms for the rest of the day on Sunday, though sunshine and light clouds persisted through the early afternoon.
“We need to be fire aware, and this is probably the start of our fire season,” Kern said. “Probably a lot of us are paying more attention now, and that’s a good thing.”