Lack of spring rainfall, rapid snowpack loss have dried fuels, boosted risk of fire spread
PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Fire season will begin for The Dalles and Prineville units of Oregon Department of Forestry’s Central Oregon District at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, the earliest declaration in more than 40 years, officials said Thursday.
Leadership within the district say they have been monitoring fuel conditions this spring, as well as reviewing snowpack, weather forecasts and drought impacts. The limited precipitation across the region this spring has affected down woody fuel moisture content, as well as the condition of live vegetation fuels and their susceptibility to fire ignition and spread.
Conditions in The Dalles and Prineville units are unseasonably dry and at an increased risk of fire spread. New maximum daily fire indices are being recorded, indicative of the potential wildfire hazard.
Historically, this will be the earliest declaration of fire season in the district in more than 40 years. Typically, weather and fuels in Central Oregon begin to warm and dry in late May or early June, with fire season beginning in mid-June. However the lack of spring rains this year and the rapid loss of snowpack in the higher elevations has moved this timeframe forward by several weeks.
Early-season fires have created significant concern for firefighters this spring. So far, 22 human-caused fires have burned over 200 acres. The 10-year average for this timeframe is 10 fires, burning 32 acres. Escaped debris burning is the leading cause of these fires, accounting for more than half of these wildfires.
General Fire Season Regulations
The following acts are prohibited during fire season, in accordance with ORS 477.510 and ORS 477.512:
- Smoking while working in or traveling through any operation area.
- The use of fuse and caps for blasting, unless approval is granted by the forester.
- The discharge of an exploding target inside the district or within one-eighth mile of the district.
- The discharge of tracer ammunition on land that is within the district or within one-eighth mile of the district, or when discharged, crosses above land that is within the district or within one-eighth mile of the district.
Operators should refer to https://www.oregon.gov/odf/fire/Documents/fire-season-requirements-for-industrial-operations.pdf for information specific to industrial operations during fire season, or call their local ODF Office.
Information specific to ODF’s Central Oregon District by Unit:
The Dalles Unit-Wasco and Hood River Counties (541) 296-4626
In addition to the on-set of Fire Season in The Dalles Unit, MH-4 (west of Hwy 35 in Hood River County) and MH-1 (east of Hwy 35 in Hood River and Wasco counties) will move into Industrial Fire Precaution Level 1. Included in these restrictions is the use of fire or power-driven machinery in any forest operation unless in compliance with all fire prevention requirements (ORS Chapter 477 and OAR Chapter 629 Divisions 41 to 43). A one hour firewatch is required after all forest operations, unless waived.
Burn permits from ODF or your local fire department are required for burn barrels and burning yard debris material (ODF will not be issuing permits for debris burning after May 15th). Always follow all recommendations on your burn permit. Only burn materials approved by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for outdoor burning. A DEQ Fact Sheet to help determine what applies in your area, or who to call for more information can be found here: https://www.oregon.gov/deq/FilterDocs/OpenBurnEng.pdf.
Beginning June 1, Hood River and Wasco counties will be implementing county wide burn bans to reduce the risk of wildfire from escaped debris burns. While campfires are not included in this ban, please verify with the respective landowner that campfires are allowed on their land and always make sure the campfire is completely out before leaving.
“There is strong agreement between ODF and our local county and fire district partners to bump up the Burn Ban dates in alignment with the fuel conditions we are seeing and the number of fire responses that have occurred this spring to date. Given the limited rainfall received during the winter/spring and the hot & dry conditions, this is the prudent thing to do. We hope the public can support holding off on burning until the fall rains in order to minimize the number of human caused wildfires on the landscape,” states Kristin Dodd, The Dalles Unit Forester.
John Day Unit—Grant, Wheeler, Morrow, Harney, & Gilliam Counties (541) 575-1139
Fuel conditions in the John Day Unit are unseasonably dry, but do not yet necessitate the restrictions implemented with the Fire Season declaration.
Burning of logging slash and larger debris piles is not currently allowed in the John Day Unit. Burn barrels and smaller yard debris piles do not require a burn permit from the Department of Forestry, but may require a permit from the local fire department. Remember to follow safe burning guidelines and never leave a fire unattended.
Prineville Unit-Crook, Jefferson, and Deschutes Counties (541) 447-5658
Fire season restrictions are intended to reduce wildfires in the Prineville Unit and Sister’s Sub-Unit. Burning of logging slash is not allowed at this time. Contact the local fire departments to obtain burn permits for burning yard debris where allowed.
For additional information on ODF’s Central Oregon District, including contact information and unit offices, please visit www.ODFcentraloregon.com.