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Fire danger to increase to ’moderate’ Friday

file photo Sean Hendrix, burn boss with Grayback Forestry, helps to ignite a control burn in the Ashland Watershed.
Rising temperatures, bone-dry terrain inform decision

High temperatures and a parched landscape have prompted the Oregon Department of Forestry to raise the fire danger on lands it protects in southwest Oregon to “moderate.”

The change will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, June 4, according to ODF public information officer Natalie Weber.

“We’re continuing to heat up and even setting records across some areas with our temperatures, and it’s time,” Weber said. “The fuels that we have are extremely dry. We’re a lot closer to early July-like conditions right now than we are to June.”

Medford tied a daily temperature record Tuesday that was set in 1924, the mercury climbing to 102 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Klamath Falls and Roseburg also set temperature records Tuesday.

The major changes under the new restrictions will affect power equipment use, such as chainsaws and mowers, Weber said. Under the new restrictions:

  • Chainsaws may not be used between 1 and 8 p.m. During permitted hours, operators must have a shovel and fire extinguisher that is eight ounces or larger at the work site. A fire watch of one hour is also required after each chainsaw use.
  • Mowing of dead or dried grass with power-driven equipment is not allowed between 1 and 8 p.m. This restriction does not include mowing of green lawns, or equipment used for the commercial culture and harvest of agricultural crops.
  • Cutting, grinding and welding of metal is not allowed between 1 and 8 p.m. During permitted hours, work sites must be cleared of potentially flammable vegetation and other materials. A water supply must also be at the job site.

“We just want to avoid anything that can throw a spark in the heat of the day,” Weber said. “That actually cuts down on a lot of fires that we have this time of year.”

Additional restrictions and limitations under moderate fire danger include:

  • A ban on open fires, which includes campfires, charcoal fires, cooking fires and warming fires, except at locations deemed a designated campground. Portable cooking stoves using liquefied or bottled fuels are still allowed.
  • Motorized vehicles, including motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, will be allowed only on improved roads free of flammable vegetation. A shovel and a gallon of water, or a fire extinguisher that’s at least 2.5 pounds, is required while traveling.
  • Debris burning remains prohibited.

Fire season in full swing

Rogue Valley crews have kept busy stomping out grass and brush fires the last several days.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, ODF crews responded to a blaze in the 9600 block of East Antelope Road outside White City. Dubbed the East Antelope fire, it grew to 49 acres. As of Wednesday, crews were close to full containment on the blaze. The fire’s cause remains under investigation.

On Tuesday evening, an engine from Jackson County Fire District No. 3 and a Medford Fire-Rescue brush rig responded to a field in the 1700 block of Beall Lane in Central Point. Crews snuffed the fire at one-tenth of an acre, according to Deputy Chief Mike Hussey. A lawnmower pushing through dry grass started the blaze, officials determined.

“The fuels are dry, the humidities are low, so any sparks that are generated by mowing, or really any power equipment, have a higher likelihood of starting our light fuels on fire,” Hussey said.

In Douglas County, crews from the Douglas Forest Protective Association and the Elkton Rural Fire Department continued to battle the Mehl Creek fire, a blaze between 150 and 200 acres burning southwest of Elkton near Mehl Creek Road, according to a news release.

Crews responded to the incident at 8:25 p.m.

Bulldozers worked to construct containment lines around the flames while crews from 12 engines and five water tenders worked to cool the perimeter.

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