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Better fire season on Oregon’s state-protected lands – so far


The 2016 fire season is off to a promising start, in terms of far fewer acres of state-protected land going up in smoke, the Oregon Department of Forestry said Tuesday, while warning there’s still plenty of time for trouble — and a cause for concern.

Following three consecutive prolific fire seasons, ODF said it is having early success. But as always, there is room for improvement.

To date, 470 wildfires have burned 2,685 acres on ODF-protected land. Acres burned at this time each of the last three years accounted for 93,613 (2013), 46,583 (2014) and 17,800 (2015) respectively.

Preparedness has played a key role. The state’s wildfire organization, which protects nearly 16 million acres of private, county, state and some federal lands, coordinates with other private landowners, forest workers, fire districts, and state and federal partners to keep fires small.

With Red Flag Warnings and Fire Weather Watches forecast for central and eastern Oregon over the previous weekend, ODF shifted several west-side crews, engines and aircraft east of the Cascades to prepare for lightning and high winds. The strategy paid off, as initial-attack crews and supporting resources worked nonstop to keep up with multiple lightning ignitions from Friday through Sunday.

Weather and conditions on the ground have also attributed to the low number of acres burned, as the state continues to recover from four consecutive years of drought. Cooler conditions and the occasional shot of rain this summer have been a nice reprieve from the previous three sweltering summers.

But don’t be fooled, officials said. Fire risk models still indicate high potential for fires to start and spread out of control. And we still have a long way to go before the risk is reduced. Fire season generally lasts well into October.

The wildcard is people. To date, 87 percent of all fires started on ODF-protected lands have been caused by people. And leading the way are things that can and should be prevented: burning backyard debris and campfires escaping control.

“This is troubling,” said ODF Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields. “We have been preaching fire prevention for over 100 years.

“That’s why our organization and several other forestry agencies were originally formed: to prevent fires from occurring and keep them small when they do happen. We absolutely need the public’s help to be successful. Keep campfires in established fire pits within campgrounds; put them out when you leave; and wait until fire season is over to burn back yard debris.”

Fields said that while campfires and debris burning have been restricted statewide for several weeks, 74 fires have burned over 135 acres since July 1.

“There’s a perfectly good reason why we need to regulate these activities,” he said. “Summer conditions are conducive to pushing what seem to be innocent campfires and debris burning fires out of the control of a person’s capabilities, especially when they walk away without completely extinguishing the fire.”

Other known fire starters currently restricted statewide include smoking, off-road vehicle use, mowing dry grass, and cutting and welding metal. Check ODF’s interactive fire restrictions map on the web, to find out what is allowed where you live and where you plan to travel.

Tuesday was Smokey Bear’s Birthday, the most recognized mascot in the world. In the spirit of Smokey’s legacy, ODF and its partners want to remind everyone to do their part to prevent careless wildfires and Keep Oregon Green.

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