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Fire season starts Wednesday

Sean Hendrix, burn boss with Grayback Forestry, helps to ignite a controlled burn in the Ashland Watershed. Oregon Department of Forestry announced Monday that fire season on ODF-protected lands in southwest Oregon begins Wednesday. Mail Tribune / file photo
With a dry spring and hot weather in the forecast, ODF said it’s time to institute fire restrictions

The 2021 fire season on land protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry in southwest Oregon starts at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, May 12, with debris burning prohibited until the season ends.

Dry, warm weather this spring was the key factor in the decision, said ODF public information officer Natalie Weber.

“We have less chances for rain, and the rain in the outlook really hasn’t materialized in the last couple weeks,” Weber said. “It’s the combination of the consistent weather patterns we’re starting to see with the warm days, the fact that the fuels in our region are much drier than they typically are for this part of the year. And we’ve had a lot of preseason fires. And it’s just getting to the point where all of those factors are coming together.”

The fire danger level will start at “low.”

The news coincides with a significant temperature jump in the local forecast. Typical Rogue Valley temperatures for this week hover in the mid-70s, according to the National Weather Service, but high temperatures are expected to be 10 to 15 degrees higher than that this week.

"Roughly about a 5-degree warmup every day (Monday) into Wednesday,“ Weather Service meteorologist Sven Nelaimischkies said. ”We’re just going to be seeing some offshore flow.“

On Monday, the high temperature for Medford was forecast to be 78 degrees. A high of 84 degrees is forecast for Tuesday, followed by a high of 88 degrees Wednesday.

Since March 1, fire crews in Jackson and Josephine counties have responded to 53 fires on the 1.8 million acres of public and private land ODF protects in the region, Weber said.

The two largest fires were the April 21 Bearwallow Ridge fire west of Applegate Lake, and the April 15 Tarter Gulch fire west of Cave Junction. Both grew to more than 30 acres before crews contained them. The majority of fires this spring did not exceed an acre in size, Weber said. The 53 incidents burned a combined108 acres.

Many of the recent fires on local ODF lands started from burn piles that got out of control. During fire season, debris burns, including pile burns and burn barrels, are not allowed. Fireworks on or within one-eighth of a mile of forestland are not allowed, and exploding targets and tracer ammunition are prohibited, along with any bullet with a pyrotechnic charge in its base.

Campfires are allowed in designated campgrounds, and on private land with the landowner’s permission. Portable stoves using liquefied or bottled fuels may be used. Smoking while traveling is allowed only in enclosed vehicles on improved roads, in boats on the water, and other specifically designated locations.

Crews from the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest were working Monday to contain a new fire. The Josephine fire, burning in the Wild Rivers Ranger District, was reported at 22 acres and was burning in a “very inaccessible” location on the backside of Woodcock Mountain near Josephine Creek, just outside the burn scar from the 2002 Biscuit fire, which burned nearly 500,000 acres.

The fire was slow-moving, burning in an area that includes grass, brush and pine trees. Personnel from the Rogue River Interagency Hotshots, a 20-person hand crew from Grayback Forestry and a Type 1 helicopter were on scene Monday.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

“This fire is very difficult to access, but we feel confident that we can get it lined (Monday),” Wild Rivers District Ranger Scott Blower said in a news release.

The 2021 fire season will start 11 days later than the 2020 fire season, which kicked off May 1. The Almeda and South Obenhcain fires tore through parts of Jackson County four months later, destroying thousands of homes and hundreds of businesses. Three people died in the Almeda fire, and thousands were displaced.

The cause of the Almeda fire still has not been determined.

Multiple agencies in Jackson County have been working in recent months to mitigate local fire danger, including extensive prescribed burning in the Ashland Watershed and removal of blackberries and other flammable vegetation along the Bear Creek Greenway.

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