Rainy forecast threatens start of burn season

If you see smoke drifting up near Applegate Lake this evening, you may want to hold off calling 9-1-1 until you check it out.

Chances are it will be a five-acre prescribed burn in a meadow within the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

The burn, located less than a half-mile from Applegate Lake, marks the beginning of the annual fall burning season on the forest and on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District in Jackson and Josephine counties.

The practice includes burning hand-piled debris from forest thinning and controlled underburning to reduce vegetation growing around trees, as well as burning meadows and other areas to remove invasive weeds.

However, with fire danger remaining at the high level, burning is contingent on weather conditions and is monitored by fire suppression crews, officials stress.

With fire season restrictions still in effect, all burning on private land, including using burn barrels or pile burning, is prohibited. Fire season usually ends in mid-October in Jackson and Josephine counties.

The National Weather Service calls for largely rainy weather with cooling temperatures to begin late tonight and continue through Friday across the two counties. Rain is expected to resume Sunday and continue into next week.

No burning is yet scheduled on the BLM district, which is generally on lower elevation lands, said Tom Murphy, the district fire officer.

"It's too dry for us at this point," he said, noting there will be prescribed burns on the district this fall.

"You've got to have enough rain to penetrate the canopy, then a couple of days of drying for us to burn," he said. "It's a narrow window."

The prescribed burning near Applegate Lake is on the Upper Kanaka Gulch meadow.

"This low-intensity prescribed fire will enhance native grass and forb species and restore and maintain winter habitat for animals such as deer," explained district biologist Barbara Mumblo.

Burning the meadow is intended to kill non-native grasses such as medusa head, she said, noting that after the meadow is burned, it will be reseeded with native grasses.

A light burn that is expected in the meadow may also rejuvenate buck brush for better deer forage, she added.

The prescribed burn is expected to begin in early evening, providing weather conditions and fuel moisture are favorable for a "light" burn of the meadow, she said.

The public is asked to avoid the area when the burning occurs.

Prescribed burning is allowed only on days when conditions will let the fire burn safely while blowing smoke away from populated areas. To protect air quality during the burning periods, the land management agencies work with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the National Weather Service and the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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