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Beware the burn piles

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Out-of-control burn piles sparked four grass fires in a 24-hour period Monday and Tuesday, keeping wildland firefighters and local fire agencies on their toes as they rushed to put them out.

On Tuesday, Ashland Fire & Rescue called a time out, suspending all open burn permits due to dry and warm conditions and an increase in wildfire activity.

“If it rains significantly before the beginning of Oregon Department of Forestry’s declared fire season, Ashland Fire & Rescue will consider allowing permits to be reactivated at the request of the permit holder, but otherwise there will not be any more burning this spring,” the fire department said in a news release.

None of the fires involving burn piles have been larger than an acre, officials said. On Monday afternoon, fire crews responded to out-of-control burn piles near Ashland, Sams Valley and Gold Hill. On Tuesday morning, a burn pile got out of control in the 3900 block of Corey Road near Central Point.

ODF, Jackson County Fire District 3 and Medford Fire-Rescue responded, arriving on scene to find a wildfire that had grown to about one-tenth of an acre after flames escaped from a controlled burn.

“The fire had caught some pieces of equipment and some debris that was in the area, and that was burning when we arrived,” said ODF public information officer Natalie Weber. “It got pretty close to a (mobile home), however, we were able to stop the spread of the fire before any damage was done there.”

Crews have also had to tangle with a fire likely sparked by a cigarette chucked from a vehicle on Interstate 5, as well as house fires in Eagle Point and Central Point that damaged a garage and attic, respectively.

“Our call volume’s been relatively flat, meaning a typical day,” said Fire District 3 Deputy Chief Mike Hussey. “What’s abnormal is we’ve had an increase in fires over that 2-day period, and our time at the task is longer. When we go to a medical call, we might be committed for 45 minutes. On the structure fire, we commit three or four engines for longer durations.”

As a result, Hussey added, fire agencies have had to lean on each other more than usual for support.

“Us, Medford, even (Fire) District 5 to the south,” Hussey said. “To make sure that when we send three engines one way, there’s still somebody to cover that breathing difficulty or other call that happens.”

ODF District Forester Dave Larson had recently said he intends to declare fire season in southwest Oregon no later than June 1. That declaration covers 1.8 million acres of state, county, private and Bureau of Land Management land across Jackson and Josephine counties, and effectively ends debris and barrel burns, as well as use of fireworks, tracer ammunition, exploding targets and other activities. As of Tuesday, ODF had not yet issued a formal declaration.

“It’s always a conversation this time of the year, but we’re making no moves to start fire season right now,” Weber said. “The main factor in that decision is the grass that we have. All of our fuels, they aren’t that dry right now.”

Ashland Fire & Rescue urged Ashland residents to consider themselves at Level One — “Be Ready” — preparedness. That involves keeping an emergency and personal supplies kit, developing an evacuation plan and removing combustible plants and debris from around your home and on your roof.

Sign up for emergency alerts at www.ashland.or.us/nixle.

Call 541-482-2770 or see www.ashland.or.us/burning for more information on burn permits.

You can reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.

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Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Firefighters work at a grass fire on Corey Road in Central Point on Tuesday.