Backyard burn ban on as firefighters gear up for dry weather

Sean C. Morgan

The annual open and backyard burn ban is in effect in Linn County, and the local wildland firefighting crew is on duty as the beginning of fire season looms.

The ban took effect on June 15 as the Oregon Department of Forestry and fire defense boards in Linn, Benton and Marion counties announced the ban, which aims to reduce the incidence of open debris burns escaping control.

The restrictions remain in place through Oct. 15 or later depending on fire danger.

“We are seeing a lot of green-up occurring with the current weather patterns,” said John Bradner, Linn County Fire Defense Board Chief. “This will cause heavy fuel loading for the grass models as temperatures rise and the fuels dry out.”

The open burning restrictions coincide with the current air-quality rules set forth by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Those rules already forbid open burning within three miles of cities over 1,000 in population and six miles from cities over 50,000 in population after June 15. These burn restrictions expand the geographical scope to include areas outside the three- and six-mile limit.

“The trend is turning warmer and drier,” said Chad Calderwood, ODF Sweet Home Unit forest protection supervisor. “It’s important people maintain vegetation around their property. Right now is the time to clean up vegetation. Dry weather is coming. It’ll take time for it to dry out, but it will.”

ODF encourages the public to have an increased awareness of wildfires and what they can do to help protect their own property. The work that a property owner does now keeping a defensible space around their property will make the difference between losing a home or structure and keeping their valuable investment intact during a wildfire event.

ODF encourages property owners to explore other options during the burn ban. Alternatives to burning include chipping, recycling centers and composting.

“We’ve seen a lot of burning going on, so that tells us people are maintaining their fuels around their yards,” Calderwood said.

“Next, we’ll be training up our firefighters, then assessing the weather and fuels,” Calderwood said.

The Sweet Home Unit fire crew began working Monday. It has five new members: Gracie Olson, Dillon Stutzman, Daniel Virtue, John Simms and Justin White. The crew has a total of 14 members.

The annual multi-agency fire school, with 127 new firefighters and a total of 250 firefighters, will run from June 26-30 at Sweet Home High School. Student firefighters will camp on the south field. A live fire exercise is scheduled for June 30 on property managed by Cascade Timber Consulting near Highway 20 and approximately one mile east of Quartzville Road.

In coming weeks, fire officials will monitor and assess weather conditions to determine the beginning of fire season and regulated use restrictions. The beginning of each depends on the condition of fuels.

“I think it’s going to be a normal fire season,” Calderwood said. That will depend on lightning storms, which could be more prevalent this year based on an old rule of thumb that a large snow pack means more lightning.

Typically, fire season and regulated use are in effect by the Fourth of July.

The Sweet Home Unit will enter fire season at the same time as the South Lane Unit, which also is part of the South Cascade District.

Calderwood said that South Lane is usually drier and warmer than Sweet Home, and that will drive the beginning of fire season locally.

The Douglas Forest Protective Association, south of South Lane, already has declared the beginning of fire season, Calderwood said.

For more information on the open burning restrictions as well as advice on safe debris disposal, contact the ODF Sweet Home Unit at (541) 367-6108 or Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District at (541) 367-5882.