Fire danger will rise to high on Friday

Greater-than-normal precipitation in the spring has been a boon, says state official, but heat this week will begin to dry things out

With temperatures expected to climb to 90 degrees or above in the coming week in Jackson and Josephine counties, the Oregon Department of Forestry is ramping up the fire danger level from moderate to high beginning Friday.

That means increased restrictions for outdoor activities, including operating chainsaws and other motorized equipment on the 1.8 million acres of state, private, county, city and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands protected by the department's Southwest Oregon District.

Fire season restrictions

When the Oregon Department of Forestry boosts the fire danger to high on Friday, the public-use restrictions will include:

  • No debris burning, including piles and debris burned in burn barrels.
  • No fireworks are permitted on forestlands.
  • Campfires will be allowed only in designated campgrounds. Portable stoves using liquefied or bottled fuels will be allowed in other locations.
  • Motorized vehicles will be allowed only on improved roads.
  • Chainsaws can't be used between 1 and 8 p.m. During the hours they can be used, chainsaw operators must have an ax, a shovel and an 8-ounce or larger fire extinguisher at the job site. A fire watch is required for one hour after the saw is shut down.
  • No mowing of dead or dry grass with power-driven equipment is allowed between 1 and 8 p.m. The harvest of agricultural crops is exempted.
  • No cutting, grinding or welding of metal is permitted between 1 and 8 p.m.
  • Smoking while traveling in forested, brushy or dry grass areas will be allowed only in enclosed vehicles on improved roads.
  • In the Wild and Scenic section of the Lower Rogue River between Grave Creek and Marial, all open fires will be prohibited, including campfires, cooking fires and warming fires.

Coincidentally, Friday marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the 2002 lightning-caused Biscuit fire, which burned nearly a half-million acres in southwest Oregon.

But the smoky sky over the Rogue Valley on Monday was from distant wildfires, officials said, noting the nearest fires are in Northern California near Redding and in southeastern Oregon west of French Glen. Fires burning in those areas have charred about 2,000 acres.

"Compared to Colorado and the Southwest, we are relatively in good shape," said veteran firefighter Brian Ballou, a spokesman for the district. "Our trees are still saturated."

The U.S. National Weather Service reports that 5.38 inches of rain were recorded at its weather station at the Medford airport during the months of April, May and June, much higher than the average 3.31 inches for that period during the two decades ending in 2010.

Meteorologists that note this is the third consecutive spring in which rainfall, along with slightly cooler temperatures, have prevailed in the region. That includes 5.45 inches of rain in the spring of 2010, followed by 5.01 inches the following spring.

Yet, thanks to limited winter precipitation, the rainfall for the period from Sept. 1 remains slightly below average at the Medford weather station.

And the recent hot temperatures are quickly drying the region, increasing the fire danger, Ballou said, adding that high fire danger by mid-July is not unusual.

Meanwhile, a cooling trend in Colorado and the Southwest means that many firefighters and equipment deployed there from this region have returned, he said.

"We've had some folks sent to far-flung places to fight fires — down to New Mexico and other places — they are back now," he said. "The normal monsoons they are having in the Southwest now is good news for all of us."

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

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