'Initial attack resources could be overwhelmed': Fresh round of lightning in forecast

    Night Operations on July 28 on the Taylor Creek Fire, one of the Oregon wildfires ignited by lightning July 15 that continues to burn a month later. (InciWeb)

    ROSEBURG, Ore. - Here we go again.

    As firefighters continue to work around the clock to control wildfires ignited in southern Oregon by lightning in mid-July, a fresh round of electrical storms are on tap this week.

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    "Dry thunderstorms expected in northeastern California and south central Oregon Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning," forecasters from the National Weather Service in Medford cautioned Tuesday in a Fire Weather Watch. "Abundant lightning possible Wednesday morning through Wednesday evening across portions of the interior west side of northern California and southwestern Oregon."

    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.

    Because so many of the nation's firefighters are already assigned to blazes, another round of lightning could spark new fires at a time when there are fewer firefighters available to jump on the ignitions and keep them small - a concept called "initial attack."

    "Thunderstorms with record to near record dry fuels could lead to numerous new fire starts Wednesday," forecasters in Medford cautioned. "Initial attack resources could be overwhelmed and hold over fires are possible."

    A "hold over fire" is a blaze that smolders in obscurity for days or even weeks before the right combination of dry weather and wind conspire to fan the flames into an inferno.

    The fire earlier this summer at Silver Falls State Park was a hold over fire, ignited weeks before it became noticeable, as was the 2017 Whitewater Fire on Mount Jefferson.

    But forecasters held out some hope that the full impact of the storm wouldn't be felt.

    "Smoke across the area may inhibit the convection. Additionally, high precipitable water values and slow to moderate storm motion means that some storms could produce wetting rainfall, diminishing fire start and spread potential," forecasters noted.

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