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Fire officials ease restrictions in national forests

Deer-hunting camps throughout Jackson County will be warmer and brighter now that federal fire bosses have eased fire restrictions in the national forests here.

Fire officials with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest on Friday lifted all public-use restrictions on fire, just as thousands of hunters headed to high-elevation forest areas for today's start of the general rifle season for black-tailed buck deer.

The move means hunters camping along turnouts on backwoods logging roads can have the luxury of warming and cooking fires — a traditional piece of "Deer Camp" that is often sacrificed due to hot and dry conditions.

These camp spots are referred to by the Forest Service as "dispersed sites" and are unlike developed campgrounds with set sites, fire rings and picnic tables.

"The restrictions were lifted (Friday), so hunters and everybody else can have fires in dispersed sites on the forest," said Forest Service spokesman Paul Galloway.

The nearby Umpqua National Forest eased its public-use restrictions Thursday, but they didn't go into effect until today.

The Forest Service rules are independent of rules issued by the Oregon Department of Forestry, which oversees fire activity on private, state, county and Bureau of Land Management lands — the vast majority of which are at lower elevations.

State-protected lands still have public-use restrictions in place, with fires allowed only in designated campgrounds, according to the BLM.

Forest Service lands in high-elevation areas tend to be cooler, more moist and often are part of deer summer range — and are also where most blacktails and buck hunters go in early fall.

The eased restrictions come as the National Weather Service predicts a slight chance of rain Saturday and Sunday in backwoods bergs such as Butte Falls, then rain likely Sunday night into midweek.

Still, Galloway says, hunters and others who ignite campfires in the woods must completely extinguish them when they're done and never leave them unattended. Also, any smoking material must be completely extinguished.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.