Fire season has been slow so far

The 2012 fire season continues to smolder in Jackson and Josephine counties with no major wildfires on the landscape by the end of July.

In fact, the largest fire thus far has been a 24-acre blaze in the Little Applegate River watershed — and that was before the fire season started on June 20.

But veteran firefighter Dan Thorpe, forester in charge of Oregon Department of Forestry's Southwest Oregon District, warns the region is far from being out of the woods.

"We've got a couple of more months left to be vigilant," he said, noting that August and September are notorious as times when large wildfires have erupted after a lull.

"We've got to get into October before we can start feeling pretty good about the fire season," he said.

The local fire season traditionally doesn't end until mid-October. Firefighters from ODF's Southwest Oregon District protects 1.8 million acres of state, private, county, city and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands in Jackson and Josephine counties.

Thus far in the fire season, the ODF district has responded to 83 wildfires, all of them small, Thorpe said. Of those, 11 were sparked by lightning while the rest — roughly 91 percent — were human caused, he said.

Nor have any big wildfires been reported on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest this summer.

In the past, major wildfires have erupted in July, including the huge 2002 Biscuit fire that burned roughly half a million acres in a mosaic fashion on federal forestland in Josephine and Curry counties. The fire was ignited by lightning.

"In my tenure, we've had a few other fire seasons like this," Thorpe recalled. "It's related to the late spring we've had this year.

"But August is still going to be August," he added. "It's going to continue to dry out and the risk of big fires will be here."

Before joining the district staff in 1988, Thorpe noted he had been deployed to southwest Oregon in 1987 to help fight the Silver fire, which was ignited by a dry lightning storm on Aug. 30 that year. Before it was declared out that November, it had burned some 100,000 acres largely on U.S. Forest Service land in Josephine County. The storm also ignited dozens of smaller fires.

Thorpe listed a half-dozen substantial fires that flamed up in September, including the 190-acre Siskiyou fire near Ashland and the 630-acre Deer Ridge fire just northeast of Medford, both of which started on Sept. 21, 2009.

"We can go like this for quite a long time without many fires, then have weather that suddenly pushes it, and we start having multiple alarms," he said.

This summer, like the past two summers, has been cooler than normal for the region, according to the U.S. National Weather Service office near the Medford airport. If the mercury doesn't reach 100 degrees by Aug. 27, it will be a record 733 consecutive days without a triple-digit reading, the agency reported.

The longest stretch of sub-100 temperatures ever recorded in Medford was a 732-day period that ended July 25, 1958.

Meanwhile, the weather service is calling for highs in the high 80s to low 90s in the Rogue Valley through Thursday, followed by the mid-90s beginning Friday and through the weekend.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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