August 5, 2013
Contacts: Greg Wagenblast, South Cascade District, 541-726-3588
Phil Hunter, Western Lane District, 541-935-2283
Jude McHugh, Willamette National Forest, 541-225-6305
Lightning-caused wildfires have burned more than 50,000 acres of forest in southern Oregon. While the Oregon Department of Forestry’s (ODF) Western Lane and South Cascade districts escaped most of the thunderstorm activity, the districts are concerned about another source of fire starts: people.
“We’ve been having calls on illegal burns, campfires and some folks driving down forest roads with dry grasses,” South Cascade District Forester Greg Wagenblast said. “Both districts have been chasing down numerous human-caused fires each week, knowing that if one of the blazes grows large, extra firefighting resources may be hard to come by.”
With helicopters, air tankers and thousands of firefighting personnel already committed to the southern Oregon fires, the district forester said ODF’s resources are stretched thin. Dry conditions prompted both South Cascade and Western Lane to enact tighter fire safety rules July 3. But the human-caused fires continue.
We’re regularly finding campfires where they are banned, he said, and residents are burning yard debris in spite of the prohibition on open fires.
“Mowing grass during the heat of the day is not allowed under the current rules, but some have ignored the rule,” he said. “If the mower blade strikes a rock, that’s all it takes to start a fire.”
Use of chainsaws is banned totally during the current period of high fire danger, but ODF foresters continue to encounter people cutting firewood in the forest.
“Any one of those activities could start a fire that would spread rapidly,” he said.
Industrial forest operators are shut down due to the hot, dry conditions. Recreationists and residents of the wildland-urban interface also need to do their part to prevent fires, he said.
“We need the public’s assistance in preventing any more human-caused fires, at a time when all of the fire agencies are committed to large fires.”
The Willamette National Forest joined the neighboring ODF districts in voicing concern about the wildfire situation.
“The Willamette and its partners are staffed and ready to put out any lightning fires that may come. However, we need the support of you, the forest visitor,” said Jude McHugh, public affairs officer with the National Forest. “We are finding campfires with live smokes and plenty of heat. A campfire is ready to be left when you can place an ungloved hand in the coals and feel no heat.”