Oregonians have a heightened appreciation for the things that matter most to their physical and mental well-being, like time spent in the great outdoors. Oregon’s precious natural areas are more important to us than ever.
However, as the state continues to suffer through a persistent severe drought, now is the time to respect emergency responders’ safety without adding human-caused wildfires to the state’s current challenges. Because people are responsible for more than 70% of Oregon’s wildfires, residents must be active stewards of our state and adopt easy and simple actions to prevent wildfires.
According to the Oregon Department of Forestry, the top ways wildfires start during fire season are from vehicles; sparks from other equipment such as lawn mowers and power tools; and abandoned campfires — in that order. As more and more homes are being built near forested areas, Oregonians must align their outdoor activities in accordance with fire restrictions and safe prevention practices.
Here are seven small things residents must do to prevent fires in Oregon.
1.Avoid parking or idling over tall, dry grass
A few seconds of contact between dry grass and a hot catalytic converter or a motorcycle exhaust system can start a fire. Operate vehicles and ATVs on established roads and trails, and park on gravel surfaces or developed roadside pull-outs. Always carry an approved fire extinguisher on vehicles that are used off road.
In wildland areas, an escaped carbon particle from a muffler may be all it takes to start a fire. This includes cars, tractors, harvesters, chainsaws, weed trimmers and mowers. Keep the exhaust system in proper working order, spark arresters clear of carbon build-up, and the engine free of oil and dust. Allow equipment to cool before refilling with gasoline. Use the recommended grade of fuel and don’t top it off.
2. Use the right tool at the right time
Check with your local fire authority or forestry district to learn if there are any current restrictions or regulations on the use of power tools with internal combustion engines, such as lawn mowers, chainsaws and weed trimmers. Some areas may restrict their use depending on weather and vegetation conditions. The best time of day to use gas-powered equipment is early morning, when the humidity is higher and temperatures are lower. Never mow when it’s windy or excessively dry. Lawn mowers are designed to mow lawns, not weeds or tall, dry grass. Use a weed trimmer with plastic line, vs. metal blades that can strike rocks, create sparks and start a wildfire. Remove rocks in the area before you begin operating any power equipment to avoid sparks.
3. Consider your ammunition
As Oregon’s drought deepens, target shooting activity can start fires as hot metal bullet fragments can ignite dry vegetation. During fire season, voluntarily stop shooting after 1 p.m. Always use nonmetal targets against a nonflammable backstop of mineral soil and cleared of flammable debris for 20 feet on all sides. Avoid shooting against rocks. Bring a fire extinguisher, water and a shovel, and place them near target areas to help immediately extinguish any fires. After shooting, check the target area for any signs of smoke, heat or fire and stay on site for at least an hour afterward to ensure no fires have started.
4. Never release sky lanterns
Sky lanterns are totally illegal in Oregon. These are paper balloons that float up into the air and are carried aloft due to the heat from an attached candle. They are essentially unmanned and uncontrolled hot air balloons. Launching an open flame into the air may be pretty sight, but the fire risk outweighs the sentimental spectacle. Instead, residents should find alternative, non-flammable light sources for their ceremonies and celebrations.
5. Adhere to campfire rules
Caption: Be responsible and use common sense to avoid becoming the cause of a wildfire. (Photo: Getty Images. Posed by models)
Camping is a popular pastime in Oregon because of the state’s beautiful natural areas. However, campers must follow safe campfires precautions. Common-sense practices call for proper setup, vigilance and safe extinguishment of a campfire before going to bed or leaving for home. Given the predicted drought conditions and pandemic concerns, campfires may be restricted or banned this summer. Before heading outdoors, contact the agency who manages the lands at the campsite destination for an update on current fire restrictions.
6. Fireproof your property
There are several easy things people can do to decrease the likelihood of a fire on their property, including removing debris and brush from their yard and making sure their roof and gutters are free of leaves and debris.
All in all, Oregonians must use common sense to evaluate the potential risk for fire and the flammability of their landscape around the home. If you think what you are doing will create sparks in a dry area, find an alternative activity, or reschedule for a lower-risk time of year.
7. Follow barbecue safety practices
While there are no laws regulating residential barbecues, common-sense practices should be followed. For example, set up the barbecue grill on asphalt instead of grass, and at a safe distance from the home and roofline. Do not leave it unattended, and keep a garden hose nearby for escaped embers. When it is time to clean the grill, discard ashes in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid.
By working together, we can drastically reduce the amount of fires on the landscape this summer and enjoy outdoor activities under smoke-free skies.
For more information, visit Keep Oregon Green at keeporegongreen.org.