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C.O. ODF urges caution with spring yard debris burning

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And agency officials in Salem suggest you wait

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Spring is often the time when landowners work to clean up vegetation and yard debris from around their homes.  However, the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Central Oregon District reminds landowners to be cautious if they plan to burn that material. 

Weather in the spring can often be erratic and winds can pick up suddenly, fanning flames and dispersing embers into dry fuels nearby. 

Cleaning gutters, removing leaves and needles from roofs and clearing dead vegetation from around structures helps reduce risk of wildfire damage to homes and outbuildings.  Many communities have programs which allow for chipping and disposal of these types of materials, at low or no cost to landowners.  ODF encourages landowners to take advantage of these opportunities.

While it is still early spring on the calendar, fuel conditions across the areas ODF’s Central Oregon District protects are experiencing warmer and drier weather patterns than normal.  Lower snowpack and warmer temperatures have resulted in a decrease in fuel moisture and increased flammability.  

ODF personnel have assisted rural fire district and federal partners responding to numerous fires from escaped debris burns, as well as campfires which have been left unattended. 

“We’ve been seeing spring-like weather for the last month, and with it we’ve seen an increase in responses to uncontrolled fires,” explains Rob Pentzer, Assistant District Forester with ODF’s Central Oregon District.  “We want to see fuel reduction work done, and folks burning their winter yard debris, we just want to see it done safely and without risk to neighbor’s properties and homes.”

Below are some tips to reduce the risk of a fire getting out of control. 

  • Check with local fire department and county restrictions to be certain burning is allowed and what restrictions should be followed.
  • Check weather forecasts.  Avoid burning on windy days or when wind is forecast to be erratic or increasing.
  • Never leave a fire unattended.  Be certain the fire is completely out prior to leaving.
  • Have a water source and shovel available while burning.
  • Keep debris piles small.  Add material gradually as the pile burns down.
  • Contact 911 immediately if the fire gets out of control.

Landowners can be held financially responsible for the costs of putting the fire out and any damage caused by a fire if they are found to be negligent while burning.  The responsible party can also be cited for an uncontrolled fire.  Debris burning includes field/pastures and irrigation ditch burning intended to reduce thatch as well as other agricultural type burning.

For additional information on ODF’s Central Oregon District, including contact information and unit offices, visit www.ODFcentraloregon.com.

In fact, ODF officials in Salem say it'd be best to wait on those burn piles.

The first week of spring has emergency responders concerned. Beyond the impacts of the COVID-19 virus, several days of warm, dry weather has already dried out Oregon’s landscape, increasing wildfire risk.

The month of March alone has already seen 18 fires escape control on the private, county, state and federal lands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry. At this same time last year, the Santiam Park Fire east of Salem burned nearly 200 acres and threatened the community of Lyons. While rain is expected to return early next week, emergency responders are quick to caution against using fire in any form this weekend and beyond until favorable conditions return.

“As we all practice social distancing and spend more time at home, it is an excellent time to clean up around the property to abate any fire risk for this summer,” said ODF Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields. “But it’s best to just hold off burning any yard debris until calmer conditions return.”

Fields says if burning is your choice of debris disposal, property owners can still accomplish their burns under milder conditions by following a few simple steps.

  • Place yard debris in an open area away from structures, trees and power lines.
  • Create small piles (4’ x 4’) to better manage the burn.
  • Cover portions of piles with polyethylene plastic (landscape material) to keep a portion dry for lighting later.
  • When conditions improve, check with your local fire agency for any regulations in place.
  • Never burn under windy conditions.
  • To maintain containment, create a perimeter around the pile at a minimum of 3 feet, scraped clear to bare mineral soil.
  • Keep a shovel and charged hose nearby to manage the burn.
  • Make sure the pile is dead out before leaving.
  • Return periodically over several weeks to make sure the pile is still out: No heat, no smoke.

While the official start of fire season may still be a couple of months away, now is not the time to add more strain to the system, further taxing the capacity of first responders, the agency said.

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