Thunderstorms rumbled through Eastern Oregon Friday morning, causing numerous fires from lightning strikes in Morrow County.
The largest and most stubborn fires include one off Bombing Range Road near Boardman and one in Rock Creek near Hardman.
The Bombing Range Road fire began around noon Friday after a lightning storm moved through the area. As of 7:20 p.m., the fire was estimated to have grown to 23,000 acres.
Around 5 p.m., firefighters were mobilizing to start a backfire in hopes to contain the blaze that was being fueled by shifting winds of 15 mph, with gusts up to 25 mph.
"We're shutting down Bombing Range Road because we're going to start burning," said Lt. Zack Barvesse with the Boardman Fire Protection District.
Bombing Range Road was closed between Wilson and Homestead roads.
It was reported 60 firefighters from eight agencies, including Stanfield, Irrigon, Hermiston, Echo, Pendleton, Umatilla Chemical Depot, Bombing Range, Pilot Rock and Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, were continuing to assist Boardman with the blaze.
The Bombing Range Fire was one of seven fires resulting from the storm in the Boardman Fire District.
There was no estimate as to when the fire would be contained.
Earlier in the day, Boardman's Assistant Fire Chief Bill Ellis said they had contained one fire at the east side of the Bombing Range Road.
"They seem to have that one knocked down," he said. "But we've got fires all over Bombing Range Road."
Further south in Morrow County; Ione, Heppner and the South Gilliam County Rural Fire Protection District had their own problems.
The Rock Creek fire presented a challenge, as access in the rugged terrain made it difficult for firefighters to reach.
A contingency from the Ione Rural Fire Protection District and Heppner Fire Department were staged near Hail Ridge Lane and Redding Road, near Eightmile, attempting to figure out how to approach the fire.
"We know we have a fire and we know where it is, but we don't know how to get to it," said Steve Crum, a volunteer firefighter from Ione.
Crum said no one knew whose fire district the blaze was in, however that didn't deter the firefighters' efforts to get close enough to fight it.
"There are two canyons between us and the fire," he said. "We have some people down there trying to get to it."
A local rancher gave firefighters directions on how to gain closer access to the fire.
Bob Buschke, who owns property on Hardman Road, said firefighters had their work cut out for them.
"It's down there in a steep canyon. You can drive down there, and then there's no road," he said as he gestured toward the billowing smoke.
Ione Fire Chief Virgil Morgan had been battling a fire at his home near Lloyd Road before heading out to fight other fires.
"I don't know the roads around here," he said. "I drove down to the top of that ridge, but we couldn't get any closer. It's picked up quite a bit since we've been here."
While attempting to gain access to the Rock Creek fire, another fire was observed in the distance between Fossil and Heppner. Gerald Hoeft, who owns property near the area, said it was approximately five miles from the Off-Highway Vehicle Park "as the crow flies."
"It burned last night, but a couple of local guys got it out," he said. "But we had another storm come through there."
Jerry McElligott, who had driven from the Long Creek area, said he saw a helicopter with a bucket near Kimberly. He said the Rock Creek fire was approaching his property.
"We wanted to get out of Long Creek so we didn't have to fight fires," he said. "There are fires all around."
McElligott estimated the wind would whip the fire above the ridge within 10 minutes.
He headed out, indicating he should get a water truck or farm equipment to help fight the fire.
"It sounds like that fire on Juniper is really breaking out," Arthur Ekstrom, a firefighter with Ione said.
Around 4:30 p.m., a transmission over the emergency dispatch scanner had the Ione Rural Fire Protection District requesting a a tactical team to assist with the Rock Creek fire. However, with most of the area firefighters dealing with the Bombing Range fire, a transmission over the scanner said no resources were available until the that fire was contained.
"That's the best we can do," the dispatch transmission stated.
Morgan seemed unfazed by the fact he had been fighting at his home earlier. He said it encompassed around 30-40 acres.
"We've had three fires right in a row near Ione," he said. "We got those controlled pretty quick and then we got out to Lloyd Road by my place."
Morgan said they had water tenders and brush trucks, as well as several farmers and one of Boardman's fire trucks helping in Ione.
"I guess it landed just on the west end of the property," Debbie Morgan, the chief's wife, said.
Eric Orem, a volunteer firefighter with the Ione Rural Fire Protection District, confirmed Morgan's assumption.
"It started at (Frances) Smouse's and spread into Virgil's land," he said.
Debbie Morgan had been driving from Hermiston with her son when she saw the smoke. She initially thought it was from fires in Ione.
"As we got closer I realized it was our property," she said. "It's not very much - thank God."
During a lull between lightning strikes, firefighters merely waited for the next call.
"It just hit right on the hill," Ellis said about the fire on Morgan's property. "We got it mopped up and we're waiting for the next one right now."
Earlier this week, Gov. Ted Kulongoski declared a state of emergency due to fire danger across the state and authorized the Oregon National Guard and Oregon Department of Forestry to help.
Under the declaration, the Oregon Army National Guard sent an UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter to Pendleton, where it was on standby with two CH-47 Chinook helicopters. Three Blackhawk helicopters outfitted with buckets were on standby in Salem.
Other fires reported:
?The Fossil Creek fire burned about 200 acres of grass and sage about 11 miles southeast of Spray. Sixty firefighters and a helicopter were battling it.
?The Juniper Reservoir fire was estimated at 1,050 acres and growing as of 7 p.m.
?The Pleasant Valley and Maning Creek fires were both burning near Interstate 84. Go to www.tripcheck.com to see status of road closures.
?The Egley complex, near Burns had grown to 83,200 acres by Friday evening. It was 36 percent contained with 1,641 personnel battling it.
?Smoke jumpers attacked the Ball Point fire in the Badger Creek Wilderness Area, east of highway 35 on the Mount Hood National Forest, but later withdrew and retardant drops were called in.
?Chris Schulte, fire management officer with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, said just after noon his agency had reported three separate fires within the agency's jurisdiction.
"I don't have any details, but the wind is picking up pretty good," he said. "There's a lot of other starts in adjacent counties. It's a busy time when a storm hits the area."
?On Friday, the Pendleton Interagency Communications Center reported 17 fire incidents Thursday night on Umatilla National Forest land.
Most of the activity occurred in the Heppner Ranger District. A 36-hour lightning detection map showed 200 lightning strikes in the district and neighboring private lands.
Most of the 17 fires were less than an acre in size and feeding on snags and brush.
Crews from the Umatilla National Forest and the Oregon Department of Forestry aim to hit the fires hard with aerial and ground support.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.