Heat in the forecast sparks start of fire season

With Mother Nature about to fire up the grill and the region already drier than normal, the Oregon Department of Forestry has decided to begin the 2013 fire season on Monday in Jackson and Josephine counties.

The beginning of fire season means that debris burning, other than burn barrels for those with permits, is prohibited. And burning in burn barrels is outlawed beginning July 1.

Fire season regulations

For more information about the fire season regulations, check out www.swofire.com.

"The weather forecast looks like it is going to get pretty warm by the middle of next week — pushing up into the 90s," said Brian Ballou, spokesman for the ODF's Southwest Oregon District.

"We did get some good rain for a few days that dampened down the grass and brush at the lower elevation," he said. "But not enough to reverse the long-term drying trend. Once we get into the weekend and next week, it's going to be hot and dry."

The long-range forecast is calling for a hot and abnormally dry summer, which could mean a busy fire season, particularly if dry lightning storms rumble across the region, officials warn.

"It's starting a little earlier than the last few years by about two weeks," Ballou said. "But the last couple of years we've been able to hold off until early July."

Most of the precipitation in the region in the current water year fell during the fall and early winter, followed by a dry spell that began in January. In fact, the first three months of the year were the driest on record for Medford, according to weather watchers.

This spring has brought 54 wildfires that have burned 48 acres, Ballou said, noting that 17 were started by debris burns. Another 23 fires, including a 6-acre blaze, were the result of lightning storms on May 5 and 6, he added.

The mountain snowpack and the moisture content in vegetation in the lower elevations are both unusually low for the end of May, he noted.

"It's time for people to bring out the mowers and get rid of the tall dry grass around their homes, along roadsides and property lines," Ballou said. "Once we get into the dry spell, it's likely to continue to be dry for a long time."

Firefighters from the ODF protect state, private, county and U.S. Bureau of Land Management grass, brush and forestlands in the two counties.

In addition to the debris-burning prohibitions and fire barrels restrictions on Monday, other bans include the use of fireworks on forestlands and exploding targets and tracer ammunition, or any bullet with a pyrotechnic charge in its base.

Commercial operations in the woods will be required to have fire suppression equipment on the job site at all times. A person must also be on hand to watch the job site in the case a fire starts.

On the wild and scenic section of the Rogue River between Grave Creek and Marial, camp fires must be in fire pans or on a fire blanket that is placed on sand or gravel bars between the river and the high water mark in areas naturally free of flammable vegetation.

Those floating the river will be allowed to smoke only while on the river or on sand and gravel bars between the river and the high water mark in areas naturally free of flammable vegetation.

River travelers must carry a shovel and a bucket with a capacity of at least 1 gallon.

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

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