It’s that time of year again. Fire season officially kicked off last week in northwest Oregon. For most residents of the state, fire season started weeks prior.
Northwest Oregon typically gets a good dose of rainfall during the spring, and that delays the start of an active fire season. But this spring was drier and warmer than usual, and that means the environment is more flammable.
Last year, the Northwest Oregon District, typically one of the last in the state to declare the start of fire season, didn’t do so until July 10. This year it was June 21.
Just because we’re on the wet side of the mountains doesn’t mean we’re not at risk. Wildfires in the Tillamook State Forest collectively known as the “Tillamook Burn,” charred more than 350,000 acres of old-growth trees from 1933 to 1951; debris reached ships 500 miles at sea.
When fire season is declared in a district, it means that the Oregon Department of Forestry and related agencies impose certain restrictions on public and work-related activities in the state’s forests.
Early signs suggest that we can expect a fire season that could stretch into September: Already, more than 156 square miles are burning in central Oregon, the largest near Maupin.
As of last week, more than 200 wildfires already have been reported on Oregon Department of Forestry lands. More than 80 percent of them were caused by humans, the department said.
Which brings to mind another bit of timing surrounding fire season: It’s not at all unusual to have the start of the season roughly correspond with the stretch of time during which fireworks legally can be sold in Oregon. Fireworks stands in Oregon opened on June 23 and will continue sales through July 6.
In the wake of last year’s Eagle Creek fire, started when a teenager dropped a smoke bomb onto extremely dry ground in the Columbia River Gorge, we probably don’t need much of a reminder about the potentially dangerous combination of fireworks and tinder-dry forest lands. But here goes anyway: Oregon law prohibits possession, use or sale of any firework that flies into the air, explodes or travels more than 12 feet horizontally on the ground, unless you have a permit issued by the Oregon State fire marshal. Bottle rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers are illegal in Oregon without a permit.
All fireworks are prohibited on all Oregon beaches, in state parks and campgrounds and on all federal public lands.
Officials can seize illegal fireworks and charge offenders with a class B misdemeanor, which could result in a fine of up to $2,500 per violation and a civil penalty of up to $500. People who misuse fireworks or who allow fireworks to cause damage may be required to pay fire suppression costs or other damages — witness the Washington teenager who started the Eagle Creek fire, now saddled with a $36 million restitution bill.
Here’s something else to keep in mind as we approach the heart of fire season: If you’re responsible for starting a blaze, you put firefighters at risk. They began training at Camp Rilea last weekend (see our photo gallery); 400 National Guardsmen are slated for pre-training in early July.
Those firefighters will have plenty to do this summer; lightning strikes will keep them busy. There’s no need for you to add to their workload. Act with care this summer while you’re enjoying our wildlands.