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Chainsaws approved, but we're not out of the woods yet

Fire danger has eased enough to allow limited chainsaw use in Jackson and Josephine counties.

Open burning is still prohibited, but fire danger generally has dropped from extreme to high in areas protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry, said Dennis Turco, fire prevention specialist. Shorter days, cooler nights and early-fall moisture have reduced the likelihood of fires, but it will take at least an inch of rain to end fire-season restrictions, Turco said.

Barring a major storm that lifts restrictions suddenly, constraints on equipment use will diminish gradually as soils and forest fuels regain moisture, Turco said. He noted that despite recent light rain, dry grass, woody debris and logs remain dry and highly flammable. A small fire broke out Tuesday on Trail Creek, hours after fall's first frost nipped many parts of the Rogue Valley.

The eased rules apply on all land where the state Department of Forestry provides fire protection ' including lands owned by the state and private individuals and those administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Chainsaws now may be used except between the hours of 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Also allowed except during those hours are mowing of dry grass; non-agricultural, non-commercial use of power-driven machinery such as backhoes, rototillers and trenchers; and cutting, welding and grinding of metal.

Autumn's shorter days effectively restrict equipment use to the morning hours before 11 a.m. under the eased rules.

Besides the ban on outdoor burning, other restrictions still apply. Campfires are prohibited except in designated locations, such as county and state parks. Fireworks may not be used on any federal land nor in areas of flammable vegetation such as dry grass, brush and forested areas.

Vehicles are still prohibited off of improved roads, and smoking is prohibited in wildland areas except in enclosed vehicles on improved roads that are free of flammable vegetation.

Turco said there have been 142 human-caused fires in the two-county district ' 79 percent of the historic average (180 fires) ' during a difficult fire season when burning conditions lingered at extreme levels for months.

In and of itself, that's fantastic, he said. The credit goes to the public.

Turco said firefighters still have plenty to do as the season winds down. Some are patrolling the summer's large fires, looking for lingering hot spots. Others are sowing grass on burned areas to stabilize soils or building water-diversion structures to minimize erosion.

Tighter constraints are still in force on the Siskiyou National Forest, site of the 500,000-acre Biscuit fire, where forestlands remain dry. No campfires are allowed, and forest road use remains limited. Less-stringent rules are in force on the Rogue River National Forest.

For questions about specific activities, call the Oregon Department of Forestry at 664-3328 or the Rogue River National Forest at 858-2200.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492, or e-mail