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So far, so good on fires, but it’s only July

We managed to get through the Fourth of July without setting the valley on fire, which is something to celebrate. But fires are burning anyway, close enough to send smoke into the local area. High heat is back, and the fire danger is likely to go from high to extreme soon.

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Southern Oregon police agencies said they received far fewer fireworks complaints this year than last. That’s an indication that people were cognizant of the danger and refrained from celebrating the Fourth with flaming toys.

It was only last September that a firestorm swept up the valley, destroying entire neighborhoods as it went and leaving thousands homeless. The trauma of that experience is still fresh, and we’d like to think a general awareness of that reality put the damper on pyrotechnics this Independence Day.

Anyone who has fireworks left over that they didn’t use should store them safely away. New Year’s would be a more appropriate time to light them — but not even then, if conditions are drier than normal in December.

Meanwhile, there are months left to go in this driest summer in half a century, and plenty of chances for fires to ignite, whether from lightning, accident or carelessness.

Ashland Fire Chief Ralph Sartain says the valley is in for a challenging fire season. The Oregon Department of Forestry reports fuel dryness is two weeks ahead of last year. At the same time, water is in shorter supply than usual.

Crews working to reduce fuel loads by thinning and prescribed burning during the fall and spring accomplished a lot. Firefighters credited work to remove blackberries and other vegetation on the Bear Creek Greenway with helping them quickly snuff out a fire near Central Point last month.

Still, conditions remain hazardous across the region. Temperatures were expected to reach triple digits again this weekend, and remain in the mid- to high 90s all week, with low humidity. The only saving grace is that no thunderstorms are expected, at least for the near term.

Lightning is the only ignition source over which we have no control. Everything else is human caused at least to some extent, whether deliberately or by accident or carelessness.

We all have a responsibility to be extra cautious in all our outdoor activities this summer, mindful that even a momentary spark can become a roaring conflagration in a matter of minutes. So please, be careful out there.