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Southern Oregon fire danger drops to Low

Wildfires stayed small in Rogue Valley despite drought, but officials say fire season isn’t over

Owing to widespread rains and autumn weather, fire officials have dropped the fire danger level down to its lowest level for large parts of Southern Oregon.

The Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest Oregon District dropped fire danger down to “Low” on Wednesday morning and eased many industrial fire prevention regulations for lands in Jackson and Josephine counties.

In neighboring Douglas County, heavy rains prompted a similar drop to "Low“ fire danger last week for the 1.6 million acres within its district, reducing restrictions on times that power equipment, grinding, welding and cutting tools may be used.

The reduced restrictions still prohibit fireworks, exploding targets and burning debris on any state, county, city, private and Bureau of Land Management forestlands protected by the district, according to Oregon Department of Forestry spokesperson Natalie Weber. Smoking is only allowed in enclosed vehicles and on improved roads, and and any electric fence controller must be tested and certified by a nationally recognized lab such as Underwriters Laboratories.

It’s not the end of fire season, Weber said, “but we’re definitely closer to it.”

So far, the 2021 fire season has seen 324 wildfires started in Southern Oregon and 380 acres burned, according to Weber.

This was despite serious drought conditions in the Rogue Valley and exceptionally warm weather that put fire officials on high alert at the start of the season.

“There were a lot of factors going against us this fire season,” Weber said.

The unseasonably warm conditions began as soon as March and April, and fire season was way ahead of schedule by late June, according to Weber and an earlier news report.

“By the time we got to June it felt like fall should be just around the corner,” Weber said.

Not helping was a heat wave in June and July that shattered Medford’s August 1967 record for most consecutive days above 95 degrees.

The largest fire in the district this season was the North River Road fire that started June 19 and burned about 60 acres on Bureau of Land Management land in the 4300 block of North River Road between Gold Hill and Rogue River.

Level 3 “Go” evacuations in Jackson County were limited to the Fielder Creek fire, which broke “really late in the season” on Sept. 7, according to Weber. The fire grew to 32 acres, and was secured overnight.

Weber said ODF’s partnerships will local fire departments and federal fire agencies largely helped the state agency keep fires small, but locals’ efforts to report fires right away also made a difference. Some fires this season were entirely knocked down by the time ODF crews got on scene.

"It was really just a huge effort from community members up to local firefighters,“ Weber said.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.