Officials warn of increasing fire risk

Citing a flare-up of escaped fires during the current warm spell, fire officials are asking local residents to be extra careful with any outdoor burning.

"This is definitely a time for caution," stressed veteran firefighter Brian Ballou, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry's Southwest Oregon District, which includes Jackson and Josephine counties.

"The average person doesn't deal with active fires very often," he added. "It is all too common for people to light a burn pile, go to the store and get home to find firefighters putting out an escaped fire."

Within the past week, wildland firefighters have responded to a 10-acre fire immediately west of the town of Rogue River, a 6-acre fire just east of Prospect, and several other small fires. Several were likely sparked by burn piles, he said.

Although no homes were threatened by the fires, they illustrate how easily wildfires can ignite and spread, he said.

"It's always very shocking to people to have their fire from a burn pile get into blackberries or something, then see these very frightening flames coming up," he said.

Fire that escapes from a burn pile or burn barrel can be costly, he said, noting that a homeowner can end up paying for the suppression costs if they're found to have acted illegally or irresponsibly.

"But if you are taking precautions to burn on a legal burn day, have a permit from your local structure fire department (where required), have water on the site and are monitoring the fire, then there probably wouldn't be any fire costs if the fire does escape," he said.

The point, he reiterated, is that anyone igniting a burn pile needs to take reasonable precautions.

"We are encouraging people to be prepared," he said. "If they are going to burn, do it early in the day. And keep the fire as small as you can. Keep it manageable."

If a burn pile is large, officials suggest that you reduce it, then feed the remaining debris into the fire slowly to keep it from growing too large to control. Never burn when winds can spread a fire, they add.

"They need to exercise caution and good sense," he said.

To determine whether it is a burn day, call for a recorded message at 541-776-7007 in Jackson County or 541-476-9663 in Josephine County.

Fire season in the two-county area normally starts in June, but it will likely begin earlier this year if the dry weather persists, Ballou said, noting that the season has started as early as late April in the past.

During fire season, burning in burn piles and burn barrels is prohibited.

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

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