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Drought fueling potential for above-average C.O. fire season

(Update: Adding video, comment from fire program weather manager)

Already two major wildfires this year

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- After last year’s devastating wildfires, Oregon officials are again bracing for an above-average fire season.

John Saltenberger, fire program weather manager for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland, said the conditions are ripe for a rough, fiery summer.

"We're going into fire season, '20-21 already in a drought debt for Central Oregon that shows every sign of worsening as we get into late spring and summer," he told NewsChannel 21 on Wednesday.

And that's not good, after a record 2020 fire season.

"High fire danger early in the season means we can get a longer season," Saltenberger said.

Already this season, Central Oregon has seen a 200-acre fire near Bend, with the Bull Springs fire. And there was a 1,600-acre blaze last week in Klamath County.

"For Central Oregon, I'm looking at fine dead fuel moisture values which are running at just above 10 percent right now, " Salenberger said.

That's a number typically seen around the height of fire season, he said.

Central Oregon is in a drought, with every city in Central Oregon is either under a severe or extreme drought.

This is why land management agencies do prescribed burns like the one in Shevlin Park on Wednesday that put up a smoke plume visible across the area.

But Saltenberger added that just because there's high fire danger doesn't necessarily mean a severe fire season.

"High fire danger must be coupled with some kind of propelling event, like a windstorm or instability in the atmosphere," he said.

Last year, it was a Labor Day windstorm that contributed to a fire season that burned more than one million acres across the state.

Central Oregon / Deschutes County / Environment / Fire Alert / Top Stories
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Jack Hirsh

Jack Hirsh is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jack here.

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