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What does extreme fire danger mean?

The city of Ashland recently followed suit when the Oregon Department of Forestry increased the fire danger from high (yellow) to extreme (red). What exactly do the fire danger levels mean?

Fire season starts around June 1 when the weather has been warm enough to dry out grasses, sticks and needles to the point that wildfires can spread quickly. Declaring fire season puts an end to open burning throughout southwest Oregon, which commonly causes the first round of fires in our area in late spring. Fire danger then ratchets up from low (green) to moderate (yellow) and then high and extreme. The idea behind the levels of fire season is to increase restrictions on activities that commonly cause wildfires, including activities that cause sparks or can be a source of heat and lead to a fire. The hours of restriction increase from no restricted hours during the day to a complete public shutdown during extreme fire danger, which is where we are now.

So what exactly is restricted and where?

The city of Ashland adopted the ODF set of public use restrictions (there’s something called the IFPL that the public can ignore) across the whole city some years ago, reflecting that we’re a fire-prone community and can’t afford the risk of unrestricted activities that are known to cause fires. The restrictions only affect areas of dry vegetation. You can mow a green lawn any time of the day during all levels of restriction, but you can’t mow a dry field during restricted hours or at all during extreme danger. Over the years, we’ve put out several grass fires from mower blades hitting rocks and from hot engines on mowers. Electric mowers are included in this because they still have a metal blade. Electric weed whackers are fine to use, if the string is plastic and not metal.

Chain saws are another commonly restricted machine, but again, only in areas of dry vegetation. If an arborist is cutting a tree in a maintained and irrigated yard, that’s fine at any time. But if that tree at the back of the yard is surrounded by dry grass or leaves and isn’t watered, then he or she need to follow the restricted hours and fire prevention requirements that can include having water available and a fire watch for an hour or two after the work is done. All internal combustion engines, no matter the purpose, fall under this restriction if being used in an area where fire can start and spread in dry vegetation.

Other common restrictions apply to welding or grinding metal, smoking in areas with dry vegetation, and vehicle travel off improved roads. If you’re heading out of town, make sure you know what added restrictions are in place where you’re headed. Carrying a fire extinguisher and shovel will likely be required if you’re off paved roads. A fire extinguisher is always a good idea in a vehicle, no matter what time of year. It may seem obvious, but fireworks and sky lanterns are prohibited at all times during the year in the city of Ashland, during the fire season on ODF-protected lands, and at all times on national forests.

You as the homeowner are responsible for your property, so make sure anyone doing work on your behalf is aware of fire season restrictions, including landscapers and construction contractors. Too many fires start as a result of human activity, and if that fire comes from you or your property it’s hard to imagine the damage and grief that could be caused by one careless act, but it happens every year. Fire season restrictions can be found at ashland.or.us/fireseason and at swofire.com. If you’re heading to U.S. Forest Service lands, you can check their restrictions at a ranger station or call ahead to the forest where you’ll be traveling or recreating. In our area, that’s most often the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Help us by doing your part to prevent fires.

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