After being delayed by spring rain and unusually cool weather, the 2011 fire season in Jackson and Josephine counties will begin July 1.

After being delayed by spring rain and unusually cool weather, the 2011 fire season in Jackson and Josephine counties will begin July 1.

That start date was determined Tuesday after officials with the Oregon Department of Forestry's Southwest Oregon District consulted with other departments and considered the long-range weather forecast for the region.

The start of the annual fire season means that open fires will be greatly restricted, including a ban on burn barrels. There also will be restrictions on mowing dry grass and other outdoor activity that can spark a wildfire.

Fire season in the two counties usually begins in late May or the first two weeks of June. However, it has started as late as the first weekend in July.

Before fire season begins, rural residents are encouraged to cut dry grass and brush around their homes to improve the chance the structure will survive a wildfire, said Brian Ballou, the district spokesman.

"This is a good time now to mow tall grass and weeds along driveways and (access) roads," he said. "It's really important to get that work done now."

However, although fire season has not yet started, any work in dry areas should be done with caution because of the potential to ignite a wildfire, he said.

Because of the unusually wet spring, the region has an abundance of grass and brush that will soon dry out, he said.

In Jackson and Josephine counties, ODF firefighters protect 1.8 million acres of state, private, county, city and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands.

The ODF will post a fire retardant air tanker at the Medford airport tanker base by mid-July.

Firefighting helicopters will also be based at the ODF district office in Central Point and in Merlin, and a third helicopter that is considered a statewide resource also will be available.