“Even though we’ve had all this rain and snow we’re still expecting a normal fire season in Southern Oregon,” said Natalie Weber, Oregon Department of Forestry’s (ODF) Southwest Oregon District Public Information Officer. “While we’re thankful for the winter we’ve had, now is not the time to drop our guard. And being aware of all the current fire regulations really does help prevent fires.”
Weber is quick to mention how the vast majority of wildfires are human-caused. She also said that when a burn piles escape and causes damages, homeowners can be liable for thousands of dollars in damages and fines. The same is true with equipment usage.
While the winter’s precipitation provided welcome drought relief throughout the region, Weber points out how late spring rains are a double-edged sword. “We anticipate we’ll be dealing more fuel on the landscape when everything does eventually dry out – and those additional fuels, like tall grasses, can really help fires spread.”
Every year, Weber cautions against complacency and says this summer will be no different. “It’s so important that people remember that this is such fire prone country and that fire is natural on this landscape. It’s that perfect environment for fires to spread.”
She notes how human-caused wildfires often catch people by surprise – that they’re often stunned that they’re responsible for starting a fire. “If there’s any heat or something that can throw a spark, that’s all it takes. Or it could be as simple as a car that’s been parked on dry grass; or a piece of equipment hitting a rock and starting a fire. So many things we do daily have this associated fire risk and being aware of that can help us prevent fires.”
Another key factor in wildfire risk is temperature and with climate change playing out in the world, people in this region must adapt to the hotter drier conditions. This summer will be no exception.
Medford National Weather Service meteorologist Brad Schaff said, “The 3-month temperature forecast model put out by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on May 18 favors above normal temperatures for June, July and August.
“But as far as precipitation goes, there’s less of a clear signal in the models. The signals are not strong enough to make a determination that would favor either above, below or normal chances for precipitation. Though to the north, from Eugene to Canadian border, the models favor below normal precipitation in this timeframe.”
In some good news, Schaaf was pleased to report how with “so much rain and snowpack region wide, the Lost Creek reservoir near Prospect is 96% full and Applegate reservoir is at 98%! Emigrant Lake, near Ashland, is 74% full. And further east into the Cascades, the Howard Prairie Reservoir is at 50% and the Hyatt Reservoir is at 57%.”
Schaaf was also stoked about the western half of Josephine Country finally being declared “drought free for the first time in a number of years!” The eastern half of JoCo retains an “abnormally dry” designation. He added that Jackson County “is still in moderate drought because some of their reservoirs are still only half full – though that’s also still much better than it’s been for a while now.”
As May is wildfire awareness month, both Schaff and Weber are keen to remind the public about preparing for fire season.
“It’s all about awareness,” Weber said. “When people choose live in a fire prone areas they have a responsibility to prepare.”
She said the public must finish up with burning off any brush piles in the coming week – and she wants people to make sure they choose a calm day and have a water source ready to go to douse a fire fast if need be.
Tips for Fire Safety at Home!
Firefighters will not jeopardize their trucks, equipment and their own lives by driving through a potential gauntlet of flames, so safe and open access to properties is critical. This means clearing out the brush and overhanging branches along driveways.
Fire officials stress that homeowners and residents are their partners in fire prevention. They say if people do the work, they can help save their properties. Firefighters defend the homes they believe can save.
What can you do?
-Clear brush and dry vegetation within 30 to 50 feet of any structures, including dead sticks, leaves and pine needles.
-Clean the roof and rain gutters.
- Remove fire wood, chemicals or other combustibles stacked or stored near homes.
-Eliminate tall grass or low-lying brush beneath trees that can act as ladder fuels within 100 feet of the house, as creeping ground fires or wind-cast embers can ignite fuels in this zone, bringing fire to your doorstep.
-And again, with the season’s late rain, tall grasses valley-wide will dry out to become fine flashy fuels which need to be mowed down as soon as possible. The brush should be hacked back as well – and remember, it will just become harder to manage as it grows.
-Plants within 100 feet of homes should be low-growing and well-irrigated and leave ample space between trees and shrubs.
-Prune trees six to ten feet up from the ground. Fuel breaks are important as well and can save a property: driveways, gravel walkways and green lawns can stop a fire’s progress by starving it of flammable vegetation.
-And, keep working on these projects year round! Even after the burn ban is declared, people can chip the brush, sticks and limbs.
-Creating brush piles away from structures, preferably in open fields, away from trees or other live brush.
For more information about the ODF’s fire season regulations or to get more fire safety tips go to swofire.com. Or call 541-474-3152 or the Illinois Valley Fire District at 541-592-2225.