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GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Overnight thunderstorms dampened some Northwest wildfires on Wednesday, but lightning threatened to spark more flames as hot, dry weather was forecast to return by the weekend.
Up to a half-inch of rain fell on the eastern slopes of the North Cascades in Washington, where some of the worst wildfires this summer burned about 300 homes, the National Weather Service office in Spokane said.
Forecasters issued a flash flood watch for the area because of the chance of rapid runoff on areas scorched by fire.
Many other parts of eastern Washington did not receive significant rain Tuesday night and Wednesday morning and the risk of new wildfires from lightning strikes continues, said meteorologist Jeremy Wolf.
Oregon received rain in spots from thunderstorms that moved through Tuesday and firefighters were generally helped by cooler temperatures and higher humidity, said Carol Connolly at the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.
Lightning on Monday started a fire in southwest Oregon’s Jackson County that has burned about a square mile, Connolly said. Crews were working to protect about 130 homes threatened by the Rogue River Drive Fire near Eagle Point.
About 7,000 lightning strikes hit central Oregon on Tuesday and crews responded to 14 new fires but all were tiny, the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center said.
The biggest concern in Oregon, Connolly said, is a fire burning in the Hell’s Canyon area in the northeast corner of the state near the Idaho border. It has burned about 42 square miles and it continues to spread through rugged terrain that is too risky for firefighters.
As thunderstorms moved into Washington Tuesday they stirred up a spectacular dust storm known as a haboob that blanketed parts of Whitman and Adams counties, leading to numerous traffic accidents, especially in the Ritzville area southwest of Spokane.
Washington gets a dust storm like this every couple of years, said Matt Fugazzi, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Spokane. Winds of 40 to 50 mph kicked up the wall of dust.
A brush fire destroyed a home and three outbuildings at Mead, north of Spokane, shortly after the thunderstorm moved through, KHQ-TV reported.
Meanwhile in California, CalFire said Wednesday that a fire north of Day was 100 percent contained after burning 20 square miles.
At a news conference Tuesday at a fire coordination center in Redding, California, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called on Congress to enact legislation allowing federal disaster funds to be spent on the biggest wildfires.
Three years of drought have contributed to explosive fire conditions across Northern California, said CalFire Chief Ken Pimlott.