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It's over! Fire season end declared

Southwest Oregon’s second-longest fire season on record ended at 9 a.m. Friday, the Oregon Department of Forestry reported.

The 190-day season began May 1, among the earliest start dates on record, due to dry conditions and an outlook for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation.

There have been three earlier start dates: April 3, 1964, April 20, 1977, and April 18, 1988. The 1988 fire season is the longest season on record, lasting 199 days, according to ODF records that date back to 1964.

Overnight rain helped with the decision to end the season Friday, but the area’s extended forecast was key.

“If you look into next week, we have a lot of chances for additional precipitation,” ODF public information officer Natalie Weber said. “Thursday really gave us that flip in the weather that we’ve been looking for, where it’s just consistently cooler, consistently rain in the forecast.”

Rain moved into the Rogue Valley Thursday night and Friday morning, dropping scattered thimblefuls of rain — anywhere from one- to three-hundredths of an inch around Medford, Eagle Point and Shady Cove, National Weather Service meteorologist Brett Lutz said.

“Looking at it from a wider perspective, the higher terrain did get more,” Lutz said. “It was generally one-tenth to three-tenths of an inch.”

Areas closer to the Oregon Coast picked up a half inch to an inch, while areas east of the Cascades saw anywhere from a tenth to a half inch. Up to two inches of snow fell in the southern Cascades and Siskiyous, generally above 5,000 feet.

The next wave should hit harder, Lutz said.

Snow is expected Saturday and is forecast to fall at lower elevations. After a brief return to drier conditions Monday and Tuesday, wet weather is expected to hit again in the middle of next week.

“It does look like ... we will be in a cooler and wetter pattern as we go forward in time for the next couple weeks,” Lutz said.

ODF covers 1.8 million acres of public and private land in Jackson and Josephine counties. During the 2020 fire season, it responded to 220 wildfires that totaled about 40,494 acres, officials said.

The season’s first significant fire, the 761-acre Worthington fire, sparked July 30 about five miles northeast of Eagle Point. The 325-acre Grizzly Creek fire, 20 miles east of Ashland near Howard Prairie Lake, started Sept. 4.

Four days later, the Almeda fire exploded in north Ashland during a wind storm. It burned 3,200 acres along the Bear Creek Greenway and Highway 99 corridor. Thousands of homes and more than 170 businesses in the towns of Talent and Phoenix were destroyed, and three people died. About 22 acres of the damage occurred on ODF-protected lands.

The bulk of the district’s burned acreage this season came from the South Obenchain fire, which also started Sept. 8, in an area near Eagle Point. That fire destroyed 33 homes and 56 additional structures.

The usual challenges of a lengthy wildfire season were compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Crews at fire camps utilized a variety of mitigation methods, following physical distancing guidelines, wearing masks, and conducting frequent sanitizing efforts, Weber said.

Bureau of Land Management fire crews weathered the fire season under a protocol called “module as one,” in which agency hand crews came into contact only with their specific crew members and didn’t mingle with other crews. That way, if someone got sick, the spread was significantly limited. Seven positive cases were reported among approximately 8,000 firefighters assigned to larger wildfires in Oregon and Washington, ODF reported. None of them affected ODF Southwest crews, Weber said.

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneSouthwest Oregon’s fire season ended Friday.