Lightning hammered Jackson County and struck in a few places in Josephine County on Monday evening, starting a new round of wildfires and potentially contributing to the smoke that is plaguing the region.

Oregon Department of Forestry firefighters were busy this morning chasing two small lightning fires on Grayback Mountain southwest of Williams.

Dozens of other fires were ignited north and east of Medford, including one that threatened several homes between Shady Cove and Eagle Point.

Greg Alexander, Medford Unit forester for the ODF, said five helicopters and a couple of retardant planes knocked the Shady Cove fire down, with help of ground firefighters. The fire was lined this morning, at about 100 acres. Alexander said investigators were not sure if it was lightning- or human-caused.

Alexander said lightning started two fires south of Emigrant Lake near Ashland, and two others in the Ruch area.

Scott Blower of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest said a lightning fire was burning less than an acre near Bolan Lake, southeast of Cave Junction in the high Siskiyous.

Three other fires were burning in the upper Applegate River drainage, and three more were spotted in the high Cascades east of Prospect, all small and from lightning.

More fires are expected to be discovered today by recon flights, Blower said.

Meanwhile, smoke wafted into Grants Pass Monday evening from the dozens of fires in northern California, bringing an air quality index of 95, moderate, nearly twice as high as Sunday's level.

And air quality hit the orange level (unhealthy for sensitive groups) on Monday afternoon in the Applegate Valley and in Cave Junction.

The air cleared out some this morning, but the National Weather Service continued its red flag warning for thunderstorms in the area, and more smoke could blow in.

Monday night's thunderstorms blew up heavy winds, and caused three firefighters on the Beaver Fire along the Klamath River in California to deploy personal fire shelters.

According to the Associated Press, firefighters had created a predetermined safety zone earlier in the day and retreated there when the fire worsened about 5:30 p.m. Monday.

Still, the flames burned over their location. A thunderstorm produced winds as high as 35 mph, causing extreme fire behavior.

The three were taken to Yreka, examined, and released.

That fire has burned over 30,000 acres and is contributing much of the smoke to Southwest Oregon. It is 30 percent contained.

Also, the Oregon Gulch Fire east of Ashland is now 75 percent contained at over 35,000 acres.

Elsewhere, roughly 1,500 lightning strikes started nearly 20 new wildfires by Monday evening in central Oregon, the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center said.

Other fires are burning near the Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps in California, and along Highway 97 between Weed and Klamath Falls.

Lake and Klamath counties also had scattered new starts from Monday's lightning.

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Reach reporter Jeff Duewel at 541-474-3720 or jduewel@thedailycourier.com

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