Drier conditions increase fire danger level

Veteran firefighter Brian Ballou will tell you that July was an unusually quiet month for Oregon Department of Forestry firefighters in Jackson and Josephine counties.

But local residents are being asked to be even more vigilant beginning Monday when fire danger is raised to the high level, or yellow, in the agency's Southwest Oregon District, thanks to a drying trend.

The change increases restrictions on fire use to 1.8 million acres of state, private, county, city and Bureau of Land Management lands protected by ODF in the two counties.

The fire-danger level also will be increased to the high category in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. ODF and the U.S. Forest Service work together in determining fire danger.

However, Ballou said high fire danger normally begins in late June or early July, not August. It started in mid-July last year. The unusually wet spring delayed the beginning of high fire level this year.

"But the fuel moisture is finally beginning to drop off sharply now," he said. "That's an indicator to us that fires will be starting easier and moving much more aggressively."

The National Weather Service office at the Medford airport is calling for highs in the 90s and 80s this week with a chance of thunderstorms.

Very few thunderstorms struck in July in the two counties, an unusual occurrence, Ballou said.

With high fire danger, restrictions include:

  • Campfires are allowed only in designated campgrounds. Portable stoves using liquefied or bottled fuels will be allowed in other locations.
  • Motorized vehicles are allowed only on improved roads.
  • Chainsaws may not be used between 1 and 8 p.m. During other hours, chainsaw users must have an ax, a shovel and an 8-ounce or larger fire extinguisher at the job site. A fire watch is required for one hour after the saw is shut down.
  • Mowing of dead or dry grass with power-driven equipment is not permitted between 1 and 8 p.m. This restriction does not include mowing of green lawns or equipment used for commercial crops.
  • Cutting, grinding or welding metal will not be allowed between 1 and 8 p.m.
  • Smoking while traveling is allowed only in vehicles on improved roads.
  • Electric-fence controllers in use must be approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory or certified by the Department of Consumer and Business Services. They must also be in compliance with the fence controller's safety instructions.
  • All open fires are prohibited along the wild and scenic section of the Rogue River between Grave Creek and Marial. However, portable cooking stoves using liquefied or bottled fuels, as well as charcoal fires in raised fire pans, are allowed on sand or gravel bars between the water and high-water marks.

All debris burning, including debris burned in burn barrels, already is prohibited throughout the counties.

The industrial-fire precaution level will remain at level one.

For a compilation of the fire restrictions, check out the website at www.swofire.oregon.gov.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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