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Fire season or not, don't be stupid

Officially, fire season has not yet started. It doesn’t matter.

Just this week, firefighters have battled a 345-acre forest fire near Prospect, four grass fires caused by out-of-control burn piles and a small conflagration ignited by — we’re not kidding — a cigarette tossed from a vehicle on Interstate 5.

The common denominator: People who should have been more careful or, in the case of the cigarette-smoking motorist, actually conscious.

The cause of the Medco B fire had not been determined Tuesday, but there has been no lightning recently. If anybody wants to wager that it wasn’t human-caused, we’ll take that bet.

The people burning debris piles weren’t breaking the law, because fire season isn’t in effect. But the burns got out of control anyway. Fortunately, crews were able to douse them quickly, and none burned more than an acre.

Those grass fires ought to be a wake-up call. The weather has been warm and dry, there is plenty of fuel thanks to the wet winter and spring, and it’s been windy — perfect conditions for spreading fire rapidly. All it takes is a spark.

That’s why Ashland Fire & Rescue suspended all burn permits in that city effective Tuesday. They’re not waiting for the Oregon Department of Forestry to announce the official start of fire season, which ODF District Forester Dave Larson vows will be no later than June 1. Neither should you.

If you still have debris, and you can haul it away instead of burning it, please do. We understand that orchardists sometimes need to burn prunings to eradicate disease, but they also are experienced at doing so safely.

Just because the rules say you can burn doesn’t mean you should. If you have tall grass and weeds on your property, get them cut down now. Don’t wait.

This newspaper has been vocal in calling on federal, state and local officials to address the problem of summer wildfires and the smoke they cause. Many of those fires are started by lightning — something beyond anyone’s control — but many are human-caused. That’s something we can control, if we use care and common sense.

Bottom line: If you don’t have to burn, don’t. If you must, use extra caution and don’t leave a burn pile unattended.

And if you like to smoke while you drive, for God’s sake, use your ashtray.