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Rain ends Jackson, Josephine counties' short fire seasons

The 2011 fire season, which started later than normal following a wet spring, ended Wednesday in Jackson and Josephine counties, thanks to early October rain.

The season began July 1, and lasted 97 days. Last year's fire season also began July 1 but didn't end until Oct. 24.

The largest wildfire this year in the two counties was the Tin Pan Peak fire, which burned some 425 acres of private and U.S. Bureau of Land Management property just east of the city of Rogue River in August. Three outbuildings burned but no homes were lost.

The wet spring, followed by a cooler-than-normal summer, kept fire activity low, said Ashley Du Brey, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Forestry's Southwest Oregon District, which includes Jackson and Josephine counties. In fact, official temperatures never reached triple digits in the two counties this summer, an unusual occurrence.

Since Sunday evening, the National Weather Service office at the Medford airport has received about a half-inch of rain, according to forester Mike Stavish. However, more precipitation often falls in the mountains ringing the Rogue Valley.

In the 24-hour period ending at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Grants Pass had received .47 of an inch, Howard Prairie .55 and Provolt .41. Crater Lake and Mount Ashland received 6inches of snow Tuesday, Stavish said.

The weather service is calling for a weaker storm system to move through beginning Sunday, with a 30 percent chance of showers through Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the end of fire season means that woody debris and barrel burning is now allowed on ODF-protected lands. However, open burning is regulated for air quality. Before lighting a burn pile or burn barrel, local residents are urged to call the open burning advisory number in Jackson County, 541-776-7007, or Josephine County, 541-476-9663.

Some cities do not allow open burning during any time of the year, and many rural fire-protection districts require a burn permit.

Outdoor burning, for example, is prohibited inside the city of Ashland unless a permit is obtained. Yard trimmings and clippings are not permitted to be burned, and no materials that create obnoxious odors, such as grass and leaves, can be burned.

Burn permits in Ashland are issued only for piles resulting from wildfire fuels-reduction efforts in the Wildfire Hazard Zone, and outdoor burning is allowed for two weeks by permit only on days when Jackson County declares the air quality is sufficient. The last day burning will be allowed in Ashland is Oct. 19.

Burn permits for Ashland residents may be obtained by calling 541-482-2770. An inspection is required before the issuance of the permit. Information regarding Ashland's burning rules can be found at www.ashland.or.us/burning.

Although fire season is over, all activity involving fires should be done with caution, said Du Brey, a veteran firefighter for the agency.

"We want people to continue to take extra precautions," she said. "Although fire season is over, they don't want to be careless."

ODF's Southwest Oregon District protects 1.8 million acres of state, private, county, city and BLM lands in Jackson and Josephine counties.

For information, see www.swofire.oregon.gov.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.