Dry weather raises burn pile risks

Fire season may have flamed out in Jackson and Josephine counties, but fire danger hasn't died away, warns the Oregon Department of Forestry.

An unusually dry October coupled with inattention by local residents burning debris piles have resulted in numerous escaped fires in the past week, said Brian Ballou, spokesman for the ODF's Southwest Oregon District, which covers the two counties.

"Whenever there is a burn day, we make two or three runs to put out escaped fires," said the veteran wildlands firefighter. "One of the most common denominators is that they aren't monitoring the fire like they should."

A 7-acre grass fire near Williams on Tuesday, two grass fires near Shady Cove on Monday and a 3-acre grass fire near the Ashland airport late last week were all sparked by debris burn piles, Ballou said.

"We haven't had much rain so far this fall," he said. "It is getting pretty dry out there. A lot of stuff is still cured from the summer."

The Medford area has received only .65 inches of rainfall for October, about half the normal amount for the month, according to the National Weather Service office at the Medford airport.

Until the rains arrive in earnest, homeowners should have a charged garden hose on hand when burning debris, fire officials said. A shovel and a rake also are handy to keep a fire from spreading, they note.

In addition, they caution that burn piles should be located where adjacent vegetation, structures or other burnable debris won't catch fire.

The open space around a burn pile should be twice the pile's height, while no overhead wires or branches should be closer than three times the height of the pile. And never leave a debris pile fire unattended, they added.

Before igniting a burn pile, residents need to call the county burn line to make sure it is a burn day.

In Jackson County, the number is 541-776-7007. In Josephine County, call 541-476-9663. In addition, some fire districts require a burn permit.

For tips about wildfire prevention, see www.swofire.oregon.gov.

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

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