A violent lighting storm in the area ignited a number of fires in Wallowa County Monday night, including a spectacular flareup on Mount Joseph above the town of Joseph about 8:30 p.m., visible from as far away as Wallowa.
Luckily, a downpour of rain apparently helped put out a number of fires, including the Mount Joseph blaze which died down in a short time and was not visible Tuesday morning.
"No flames are present, but smoldering is evident," said U.S. Forest Service information officer Angelica Johnson Tuesday. She added that the Mount Joseph fire, located in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, was being monitored. It was estimated at less than a fourth of an acre.
Johnson said that 73 lightning strikes were reported Monday night in the Wallowa Valley Fire Zone, but that the substantial rainfall that accompanied the storm dampened the fire situation considerably.
"The rain really helped us out," agreed Andy White, unit forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) in Wallowa. He estimated that rainfall ranged from a tenth to a half of an inch throughout the county. "The biggest concern we have now is sleepers, fires that might flare up after everything dries out." White said sleepers smoulder deep in trees where the rain doesn't touch, until it dry out again.
White said state forestry personnel had received a number of calls about the Mount Joseph fire, even though it wasn't their jurisdiction, and the calls were transferred to the La Grande Interagency Dispatch Center.
ODF is responsible for fires on state and private lands. White said that a crew had been dispatched Tuesday morning as the result of a 3-4 acre fire reported during the night by a land owner on Crow Creek who had seen the fire burning. At last report White said the crew could see portions of blackened ground but no active fire.
According to Johnson, La Grande dispatch reported a total of 12 fires caused by lightening in its jurisdiction including three in the Wallowa Valley Fire Aone, three on ODF protected land, three in the Burnt Powder zone, two in the La Grande zone and one turned over to BLM in the Vale district. As of Tuesday morning all reported to be less than an acre in size.
Reconnaissance airplanes were scheduled to fly over the forest Tuesday looking for other fire starts.