• Heat, storm threat put fire crews on edge

    Ashland Fire & Rescue worries about fireworks
  • Fire officials are on alert as triple-digit temperatures arrive today in drought-plagued Jackson County — just in time for Fourth of July fireworks.
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  • Fire officials are on alert as triple-digit temperatures arrive today in drought-plagued Jackson County — just in time for Fourth of July fireworks.
    "We do step up our readiness as it becomes evident that it's required," said Brian Ballou, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry. "Clearly, we're poised for pretty aggressive fire behavior right now."
    The National Weather Service predicts 103 degrees in Medford today, with high temperatures continuing in the low 90s through the week. Meteorologist Shad Keene said there is a chance of dry lightning strikes over the Siskiyous and Northern California and over the Cascades east today and Wednesday.
    "(Hot weather) just kind of sets the stage for thunderstorms sometimes, and this is no different," Keene said.
    Wildland firefighters said they are prepared for a potential fire outbreak with the recent drought declaration in Jackson County. The urgency is heightened that much more when thunderstorm activity ramps up.
    "If it wasn't Fourth of July week, I wouldn't be quite as worried," said Chris Chambers, Ashland Fire & Rescue forestry division chief. "It's definitely of concern when we're going to have very receptive fuel beds out there, everything from dry grass to bark to mulch."
    Chambers said additional staff would be called in if needed.
    Many ODF firefighters have been put on the 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift, as most wildland fires are reported between mid-afternoon and early evening. Ballou said requesting an additional strike team — five engines with hand crews — from Salem is always available.
    "We would just kind of keep them on call," Ballou said. "It just kind of depends on the situation. It doesn't take too long to mobilize some extra crews."
    Medford's typical July 1 temperature is about 86 degrees, making today's predicted high 17 degrees above normal.
    "We're nearing the hottest time of the year just in terms of seasonal norms," Keene said.
    Keene said a mass of high pressure has continued to build across the U.S. Weather officials noted the triple-digit climbs still won't touch the high-temperature record for July 1 — 108 degrees — set in 1942.
    Area fire agencies urge caution regarding use of fireworks. Keep the devices away from dry vegetation and have a source of water nearby when setting them off, they said.
    Under Oregon law, any fireworks that explode or fly through the air are illegal. Legal ones can be set off in unincorporated areas of the county, and in the city limits of Central Point, Eagle Point, Phoenix and Talent, but they are banned in Ashland, on federal and state forestlands and on the Bear Creek Greenway.
    Medford allows fireworks on a restricted basis, meaning no use on public-school grounds or on the town's hillsides — anywhere east of Foothill Boulevard or north of Cherry Lane.
    Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.
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