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Other Views: Fire season promises to be a bad one

All the early signs are pointing to a hot and dry summer for the Pacific Northwest, and that means that prospects are good for an unusually hot wildfire season.

In fact, the wildfire season already is rolling: We experienced fires in January — in January! — along the Oregon coast and in the Silverton area. Last month, the Sweet Home area experienced a couple of fires in slash piles that were quickly contained, but presented early-season challenges to firefighters.

The National Interagency Fire Center, which keeps an eye on fire conditions throughout the United States, is predicting above-normal fire potential beginning in June and continuing through at least August for much of Oregon.

This comes after a 2013 wildfire summer in which Oregon ranked No. 4 for the total number of reported wildfires. Oregon sweated through 2,848 wildfires last year, behind only California (which seems a lock to stay at No. 1 this year), North Carolina and Georgia.

We would love it if Oregon's fire season turned out to be uneventful.

But we wouldn't bet on it.

So that's why May is an exceptionally good time to check out your own property to make sure it's not an inviting target for fire.

Firefighters talk in terms of "defensible space," but the idea is simple: You want to create an area around your home with a minimum of fuel sources.

And that idea includes some reasonably straightforward suggestions:

  • Check your roof and rain gutters to make sure that leaves or needles — excellent fuel sources — aren't accumulating there.
  • Remove fuel sources close to the house. The firefighting experts at Keep Oregon Green and the Oregon Department of Forestry say that the perimeter of your house and attachments out to about five feet could be vulnerable if organic mulch, juniper bushes or other flammable plants are in that area.
  • Be sure that vegetation in the "middle zone" — 30 to 100 feet from the house — is low-growing and well-irrigated.

— Make sure that firefighters have easy access to your home. This seems like it should be a no-brainer, but any wildland firefighter would be able to regale you with stories about houses that were virtually impossible to defend from a blaze — because it was virtually impossible to get the equipment to the house.

Overall, the word to landowners — and to those of us who love Oregon's outdoors — remains the same: The 2014 wildfire season could be a corker. But you can take very real steps, right now, to take even a little bit of the heat off.