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'Any storms that develop will be prolific lightning producers': Willamette forest on alert

The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning, in effect from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday. (via USDAFS)

EUGENE, Ore. - Forecasters warned that thunderstorms could form over the Willamette National Forest on Wednesday afternoon and evening, bringing lightning - and sparking wildfires.

The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning, in effect from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday.

"A Red Flag Warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now, or will shortly," forecasters said. "A combination of the above conditions can contribute to extreme fire behavior."

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Firefighters in southern Oregon are still battling blazes ignited by thunderstorms one month ago.

The July lightning storm coupled with massive fires, some of them human-caused, in California have stretched firefighting resources thin.

Governors have called up National Guard troops to help fight fires. Active duty military troops have mobilized to serve as firefighters, and more than a hundred wildland firefighting specialists from Australia and New Zealand have been deployed to fill key roles and bolster ranks across the West.

The warning Wednesday includes the entire Willamette National Forest, but some areas may be at increased risk.

"Lightning appears most likely for the southern portions of the zone, particularly McKenzie and Middle Fork districts," forecasters said.

"Isolated thunderstorms will develop this afternoon, continuing into this evening. Any storms that develop will be prolific lightning producers," forecasters said. "Any rainfall will be spotty, with wetting rains unlikely."

The storms could produce wind gusts up to 35 mph, which could fan any new flames.

"Frequent lightning and critically dry fuels may result in numerous fire starts," forecasters warned. "Thunderstorm outflow winds may result in erratic fire spread."

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