Oregon Fire Season Revs up as State Prepares for Extra Busy Summer

Lighter snowpack, lighter rainfall and higher temperature trends expected to continue through the summer, all of which contribute to a more active fire season.

by Anna Spoerre, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore. / June 22, 2018

(TNS) - Fire season is officially here for most of Oregon, and fire officials say a dry, warm spring kick-started it.

Nine of the state's 12 fires districts have officially entered fire season after three more declared Thursday.

The Northwest Oregon district will soon follow suite, with its entry into fire season pre-declared this year for June 26, said Jim Gersbach, a public affairs specialist for the Oregon Department of Forestry. Last year the district didn't enter into fire season until July 10.

In fact, on June 21 of last year, only five of the 12 regions had gone into fire season, Gersbach added.

The point of declaring the start to a fire season is to raise public awareness of higher fire risks once it has been determined that conditions are conducive to the spread of fire in each region, he said.

Russ Lane, Deputy Chief of Fire Protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry, said he and other fire officials are preparing for what could be an "interesting" and already more active than usual fire season.

For example, northwest Oregon is typically the last area to go into fire season considering its higher levels of rainfall. But, Lane said, that isn't the case anymore, as fire dangers in that part of the state are much higher than normal.

"Last year opened a lot of people's eyes to the fact that we can have fire on the west side," said Traci Weaver, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Lighter snowpack, lighter rainfall and higher temperature trends expected to continue through the summer, Lane said, all of which contribute to a more active fire season.

Thursday alone kept some local fire officials busy fighting two small fires in the Columbia River Gorge.

But despite some public concerns, the Columbia River Gorge area isn't at higher risk because of last year's devastating Eagle Creek fire, said Rachel Pawlitz, a spokeswoman for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Though holdover fires could reignite, less organic material is available to burn.

Meanwhile, Lane said he is reasonably optimistic as a new initiative is underway to pre-train 400 National Guardsmen in early July. Usually this training isn't done until later in the summer once the governor declares a state of emergency when backup fire-fighting crews are needed, Lane said. More guardsmen can also be trained down the road if needed.

As of June 20, more than 200 wildfires have been reported on Oregon Department of Forestry lands. More than 80 percent were human-caused, according to the department.

Last year, 2,058 fires affected 717,219 acres of National Forest System land in Oregon, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. Of those fires, 45 percent were caused by humans.

June is a perfect time to prepare homes and property for fire season, Weaver said, recommending lawns be mowed frequently, gutters cleared and roofs cleared of branches. She also recommended mowing in the morning and evening.

Don't leave campfires unattended, and don't leave the area until the extinguished area is cool to the touch, Weaver advised. She also recommended mowing in the morning and evening, and remaining aware of forest conditions before engaging in outdoor activities.

Fireworks, which caused numerous fires last summer, are illegal on public lands, she said.

Legal firework sales start Saturday in Oregon. Legal fireworks do not include bottle rockets, Roman candles or firecrackers. Fireworks are also banned on all of Oregon's beaches, state parks, campgrounds and on federal public lands.


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