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Since You Asked

I have been wondering about how much our forest fires here in Southern Oregon have increased since the 1970s. I lived in Jacksonville throughout the 1970s and don't remember hearing about fires like you do now.

— Alison M., Central Point

We at SYA headquarters concurred with your perspective on wildfires until we consulted a veteran firefighter, Alison.

We called wildfire expert Greg Alexander, Medford unit forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry, who did a little digging into the record books.

Turns out there were an average 297 fires reported each year on ODF-protected land in Jackson and Josephine counties from 1970-79, Alexander reported.

In comparison, state crews have responded to an average 232 fires each year in the two counties for the past decade, he said.

And the annual average down through the years is about 240 fires, he added.

"Southern Oregon has always had fires," he said. "But there is more media coverage now."

With larger fires occurring throughout the West, along with increased coverage, it follows that there would appear to be more wildfires, he said.

In fact, the 2002 Biscuit fire in southwest Oregon was the largest in the nation that year at nearly half a million acres. It was also the largest in Oregon in more than a century.

However, it was largely on national forest land where fewer fires are generally reported. The ODF offers fire protection for state, county, private and U.S. Bureau of Land Management forest and brush lands.

"Most of the fires we get are man-caused, but we also have lightening-caused fires," he said, noting that many of the fires reported during the dry years of 1970s were sparked by lightning.

"What happens each year depends on a lot of factors," Alexander said, noting that includes everything from how dry the summer is to how careful humans are. "Last year we were pretty fortunate locally. We hope it'll be that way again this year."

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.