It's been slow in coming, but the Oregon Department of Forestry is finally ready to heighten its public use fire danger level to "extreme" after a recent increase in spot fires in Southern Oregon.

It's been slow in coming, but the Oregon Department of Forestry is finally ready to heighten its public use fire danger level to "extreme" after a recent increase in spot fires in Southern Oregon.

The danger levels for lands in the ODF's Southwest Oregon district will be moved from "high" to "extreme" beginning Friday.

Extreme is the most dangerous classification in the system and places increased restriction on the use of chainsaws, mowing and cutting dead grass, welding and other potentially spark-starting activities.

Under extreme danger these activities must be halted by 10 a.m. They are allowed until 1 p.m. under high fire danger.

ODF fire prevention specialist Brian Ballou said his agency typically moves from high to extreme much earlier in the summer — Aug. 3 in 2011 and July 27 in 2010 — but the ODF was waiting for the right signs this year to make the move. He said hotter and more numerous spot fires were the signs the ODF was looking for.

Ballou said that in the event of a continued dry summer resulting in even drier grass and other material the ODF could ban all of these activities outright and shut down public use of forest lands.

But that step would be taken only under far more serious conditions than either high or extreme fire danger.

ODF Medford spokesman Greg Alexander said he didn't feel the public would have any problem following these new guidelines.

"The general public and industry all know how fires burn in Southern Oregon," Alexander said. "Most people pay good, close attention."

For more information about the Southwest Oregon Fire District precaution level, a chart can be found at www.swofire.oregon.gov.

Mat Wolf is a reporting intern at the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4481 or email mwolf@mailtribune.com.