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Learn not to burn

Don't let the recent spate of cool, wet weather fool you: Summer is coming, and with it an increase in wildfire danger.

The Southern Oregon Firewise Expo, which kicked off Friday and continues from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Jackson County Fire District No. 3, 8333 Agate Road, White City, has brought together experts from numerous fire agencies to educate people on ways to prepare for fire season.

"You know, it seems like we've had all this rain, but all it takes is a week of 100-degree temperatures," said Jason Bayless, Illinois Valley Fire Department public information officer. "It dries out real quick."

Agencies taking part in the free public event include Oregon Department of Forestry, U.S. Forest Service, Fire Districts 3 and 5, Jacksonville Community Emergency Response Team, Josephine County Emergency Management, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Illinois Valley Fire District, Applegate Fire District No. 9, and Ashland Fire & Rescue.

Informational displays at the event touch on such topics as urban fuels, how to properly construct burn piles, community emergency response teams, insect disease, landscape restoration and creating defensible spaces.

Groups of students on a field trip got an education Friday on how clearing brush away from structures and using fire-resistant materials can make all the difference when a wildfire comes roaring past.

Karl Witz, ODF wildland fire supervisor, displayed two models of a house, one bearing good defensible space with a handsome buffer of gravel and fire-resistant plants, while the other showed branches and other yard debris piled beneath scorched siding and window glass broken from radiant heat.

"We lit (the debris pile) on fire, and it literally only burned for about 30 seconds to a minute before it started spreading to the house," Witz told a group of St. Mary's students.

Maren Chamberland, a St. Mary's sixth-grader, said learning about "toxic fuels," at a station that detailed how some household materials burn more easily than others, was of particular interest.

"Tires, microwaves, refrigerators — any of that can burn a lot easier," Chamberland said.

"The event includes live fire demonstrations people can watch from behind a safety line, and fire officials will demonstrate how quickly different types of vegetation can burn, how fire can rapidly spread from flammable plants to your home, and which building materials are most flammable," according to the event Facebook page.

"Participants will have the opportunity to take part in hands-on learning involving burn-pile safety and construction ... and identify fire-resistant and fire-prone plants within their landscape," the page said.

Rural homeowners, rather than fire crews, can provide the best defense against losing their homes by taking action before they're faced with a wildfire.

"Southern Oregon encompasses one of the most vulnerable wildfire areas in the state. Wildfire is a natural and inevitable part of our environment, and living here means learning to live with fire," event organizers said.

"Your home is only as safe as your neighbor’s when a wildfire sparks. Things you do today can help your home survive tomorrow."

For more information, see www.facebook.com/events/1887311968150952.

— Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Cascade Christian students Cody Reece, 13, and Henry Wine, 12, test out their dance moves Friday while trying out firefighter turnouts during the Southern Oregon Firewise Expo. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]