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Fire danger rises to 'extreme'

Citing some of the driest forest conditions measured in decades, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest officials will raise the fire danger level to “extreme” Wednesday.

“It’s the top 3% of the most dry conditions that we’ve had in 20 years,” said Eric Hensel, U.S. Forest Service fire and aviation staff officer.

The fire danger level does not come with any additional restrictions for the public, Hensel said. It’s primarily intended for heightened public awareness of the bone dry conditions.

Over last weekend, triple-digit temperatures baked most of the region, including a record-tying 108 degrees Saturday. From midnight Saturday to 6 a.m. Tuesday, the nine-county region the agency covers saw 376 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, some sparking fires.

In spite of the record heat, wildfire activity on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has been minimal, with 20 fires amounting to a total of 2.3 acres to date. Three of those fires were caused by lightning, the other 17 by humans. Fire officials hope people will abide by the restrictions to prevent other incidents.

“It’s just one careless moment,” Hensel said.

The Forest Service has numerous personnel on standby, both for local initial attacks and to assist other agencies. Resources include engines, water tenders, a dozer, 20-person hand crews and two fixed-wing aircraft. The agency is currently aiding personnel fighting fires on the Fremont-Winema National Forest with three helicopters, including one assigned to the Crane fire burning 10 miles southeast of Lakeview in Lake County. As of Monday, the fire had grown to 1,900 acres and was 0% contained, Fremont-Winema National Forest officials reported.

Fire restrictions for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest have been in effect since Aug. 3. Fires built on Forest Service lands can be built only within concrete or metal rings or fireplaces at designated recreation sites. Smokers can light up only within an enclosed vehicle, building or designated recreation site, stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material, or while aboard a watercraft while navigating or at rest on a waterway. Motor vehicles can be driven only on developed roads or parking areas.

Oregon Department of Forestry lands in southwest Oregon have been under “extreme” fire danger since July 31, according to ODF spokesman Kyle Novy-Riley.

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.

An aerial view of the Crane fire burning near Lakeview. InciWeb photo