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Jun-05-2014 09:29printcomments

Oregon Braces for Active Summer Wildfire Season

Hundreds of firefighters have been hired in Oregon to suppress wildfires here and in other parts of the country.

forest fire
The fire danger for the Willamette Valley including forestland in the foothills of the Coastal and Cascade Ranges, is currently low, however, conditions are currently drier than normal. Photo Courtesy: orww.org

(SALEM, Ore. ) - In preparation for this year’s fire season, fire management officials are encouraging people to think about the preparations they can make to help prevent wildfires, and lessen the potential impacts of what could be an active fire season.

The fire danger for the Willamette Valley including forestland in the foothills of the Coastal and Cascade Ranges, is currently low, however, conditions are currently drier than normal. The National Interagency Fire Center expects the potential for large fires to rise to above normal in June, and remain above normal through August.

Hundreds of firefighters have been hired in Oregon to suppress wildfires here and in other parts of the country. These firefighters are currently completing the training needed to do their work effectively and safely.

The number one consideration with all wildfire management decisions is firefighter and public safety.

“The actions that visitors to public lands and homeowners can take now to help prevent and prepare for wildfires ultimately creates safer conditions for firefighters to work in,” said Sean Stafford, Fire Management Officer for the Willamette National Forest and BLM Eugene District.

“It really takes everyone working together to manage and lessen the impacts of wildfire,” said Stafford.

One of the best ways visitors can prevent human caused fires on public lands is by putting out their campfires; a fully extinguished campfire is cool to the touch. It’s also important to know what campfire restrictions may be in effect. Some areas, such as Wilderness Areas require a camp stove.

Fire prevention and pre-season preparations on private lands are important too. Residents are encouraged to be proactive, and take advantage of the resources available to help make their homes and neighborhoods more fire-ready and more fire-adapted.

“It's a good time to think about the actions homeowners can take to protect their homes from wildfire, especially if you live in or near a forested area,” said Tom Fields with the Oregon Department of Forestry.

“This includes keeping your surroundings lean, clean and green. Clear out dead or fire-prone vegetation around the home and remove leaves and pine needles from the roof and gutters. These little things can help your home survive an approaching wildfire.”

These kinds of preparations also support the year-round efforts by agencies to reduce hazardous fuels on public lands and around private lands.

Summer Fire Prevention Tips:

Off-Road Driving Tips:

Follow these basic tips when you ride or drive off-road to prevent an enjoyable outing from turning into a costly, damaging wildfire:

  • Inspect the exhaust system on an ATV/ highway vehicle to ensure it is undamaged, functioning properly and free of grass and twigs. (Regularly inspect the undercarriage to ensure that fuel and brake lines are intact and no oil leaks are apparent.)
  • Operate ATVs on established roads and trails, and park on gravel surfaces or developed roadside pull-outs. Avoid driving or riding where dry vegetation can contact the exhaust system. Never park over tall, dry grass or piles of brush that can touch the underside of a vehicle.
  • Follow recreational forest laws during fire season.
  • Respect private forestlands and their designated closure areas.
  • Always carry an approved fire extinguisher on vehicles that are used off-road.

Other tips related to vehicle maintenance can help ensure your visit to the forest doesn’t end in flames:

  • Check tire pressure - driving on an exposed wheel rim can cause sparks.
  • Check your brake pads for wear - metal-on-metal likewise makes sparks.
  • Make sure chains and other metal parts aren’t dragging from your vehicle.

“RV’ers also have a role in wildfire safety,” advises Interim Oregon State Fire Marshal Jim Walker. “Make sure to check that your cooking appliances, generator, and propane system are all working correctly, keeping fire safety awareness with you wherever you go.”

Debris Burning Tips: Cleaning up your backyard prior to summer can help prevent a wildfire from encroaching. But if burning the resulting debris is the only option, take care that your burn pile doesn’t become a wildfire.

  • Call before you burn - Check with your local Oregon Dept. of Forestry district, fire protective association or air protection authority to learn if there are any current burning restrictions or regulations, and whether a permit is required.
  • Never burn on dry or windy days.
  • Clear a 10-foot radius around your burn pile – And make sure there are no tree branches or power lines above.
  • Keep your burn pile small – It’s less likely to escape control if it is kept small.
  • Have a charged water hose, bucket of water, and shovel and dirt or sand nearby to put out the fire.
  • Attend your burn at all times - A burn left unattended for only a few minutes can grow into a costly, damaging wildfire.
  • Make sure it’s out – Completely extinguish your debris burn before leaving.

Defensible Space Tips:

Creating “defensible space” around your home and property simply means to maintain the landscape to reduce fire danger and provide safe access to firefighters so they can protect it.

The national Firewise Communities Program advises homeowners to:

  • Keep the roof and rain gutters clear of leaves.
  • Remove fuel sources close to the house.
  • Maintain landscaping to prevent a ground fire from reaching the structure.

Here are a few suggestions to help ensure that your campfires will be safe during the holiday weekend and throughout the summer:

  • Call before you go - Call your local forestry or fire district to learn if there are any current campfire restrictions.
  • Select the right spot - Maintained campgrounds with established fire pits provide the safest venue for campfires. If campfires are allowed outside campgrounds, avoid areas near your tent, structures, vehicles, shrubs and trees, and be aware of low-hanging branches overhead. Clear the site down to mineral soil, at least five feet on all sides, and circle your campfire site with rocks. Store your unused firewood a good distance from the fire.
  • Keep your campfire small - A campfire is less likely to escape control if it is kept small. A large fire may cast hot embers long distances. Add firewood in small amounts as existing material is consumed.
  • Attend your campfire at all times - A campfire left unattended for only a few minutes can grow into a costly, damaging wildfire. Staying with your campfire from start to finish until dead out is required by state law, to ensure that any escaped sparks or embers can be extinguished quickly.
  • NEVER use gasoline or other accelerants (flammable or combustible liquids) to start or increase your campfire. Once the fire is ignited, wait until the match is cold and then discard it in the fire.
  • Always have water and fire tools on site - Have a shovel and a bucket of water nearby to extinguish any escaped embers. When you are ready to leave, drown all embers with water, stir the coals, and drown again. Repeat until the fire is DEAD out.
  • Make sure it’s out – Completely extinguish your campfire before leaving. If it is too hot to touch, it is too hot to leave. A campfire that appears to be extinguished can harbor heat for weeks. Then, a warm day with a little wind can rekindle the “sleeper fire” into flames.
  • Burn ONLY wood - State regulations prohibit the open burning of any material that creates dense, toxic smoke or noxious odors.
  • Escaped campfires are costly – The Oregon Department of Forestry spent more than $160,000 in 2013 to suppress unattended and escaped campfires. State law requires the proper clearing, building, attending and extinguishing of open fires any time of year. A first-time citation carries a $110 fine. If your campfire spreads out of control, you are responsible for the cost of fire suppression. This can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.

Source: Oregon Department of Forestry

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