Rain ends 'exhausting' 2013 fire season

The 2013 fire season in Jackson and Josephine counties is dead out, thanks to recent rainfall.

Beginning today, the Oregon Department of Forestry is lifting all public and industrial fire prevention regulations that have been put in place since June 3, when fire season began.

"This is significantly earlier than normal — rarely do we end the fire season in September," said Brian Ballou, spokesman for the ODF's Southwest Oregon District. "But we've had a pretty good rainfall, particularly in the mountains."

While the fire season began several weeks earlier this year because of an abnormally dry winter, the rain this month has allowed it to end weeks earlier than normal, he said. The fire season historically ends around mid-October in the two-county area.

More than an inch — 1.03 inches — of rain has fallen on the National Weather Service station at the Medford airport since Sept. 1. The average rainfall for this period in September is .38 of an inch. More rain has been reported in the outlying areas.

The department's fire crews responded to more than 330 fires this season, including 126 fires caused by lightning, Ballou reported.

Of the 43,077 acres affected in the district, the lion's share — 42,300 acres — was burned by lightning-caused fires, he said. Most of those acres fell within the Big Windy and Douglas complex fires in northern Josephine County, he said. Both erupted after the July 26 thunderstorm that created a difficult season for local firefighters, he said.

"It was an exhausting fire season," he said, noting most crews got few days off in July or August. "The heart of the summer was an endless succession of long days with choking smoke. There was a lot of activity.

"It was one of those seasons, one that happens every 10 to 12 years," he added.

Human-caused fires accounted for about 800 acres burned, he added.

"People did a great job in not causing wildfires this season," Ballou said. "They were very conscientious, very careful."

Yet he warned that the end of fire season does not mean the end of being responsible when it comes to outdoor burning.

"People need to keep any burn piles small and monitored at all times," he said, adding they also need to check with their local structural fire department to see whether a permit is needed before burning.

He also reminded local residents to call before lighting a debris pile or burn barrel to determine whether it is a burn day. The number for Jackson County residents is 541-776-7007; Josephine County residents should call 541-476-9663.

For more fire information, check out www.swofire.com.

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

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