Backyard burn ban starts Monday in Linn County

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

It’s been wet, but the annual backyard burning ban will take effect on Monday, June 16.

The ban on all open and backyard burning will take effect in Linn, Benton and Marion counties.

The Oregon Department of Forestry and the fire defense boards of the three counties announced the ban, which aims to reduce the incidence of open debris burns escaping control, last week. The restrictions will extend through Oct. 15 or later, depending on fire danger. The one exception to the blanket burn ban is the Scio Rural Fire District.

While the wet weather is currently limiting wildfires, it could lead to heightened fire activity later as the lush grass growth matures.

“We’re already noticing that some of our south-slope grass hillsides are browning up,” said Kevin Crowell of the department’s South Cascade District. “The seed heads have developed, and with the onset of warm weather it will not take long for curing to occur.

“It’s the time to be watching for fires, not just today, but three weeks from today when it’s drier.”

Friday, under rain off and on all day, firefighters rolled on two grass fires, Crowell said. In May, two fires burned more than five acres, one inside the district off Santiam Terrace and one off district near Lacomb Drive.

With the grass mature, “all it takes is a little bit of heat, and they’re going to brown out,” Crowell said.

North Butte on the east end of Marks Ridge is already browning, he said, and the hills along Interstate 5 near Brownsville are too, on their southern slopes.

As of Friday, officials were anticipating the area to start drying out this week.

“What the predictors are showing is an average fire year,” Crowell said. Officials also are predicting a drawn-out fire season extending well into October with the east winds that raise fire risk in this area during the fall.

The big determining factor on how complex a fire season will get is lightning, Crowell said. That’s not something officials can predict.

Last year, the Sweet Home Unit had few fires, he said, compared to two years ago when a fire burned more than 1,000 acres near Green Peter Reservoir.

An old wives tale says that a big snow pack will lead to a big lightning year, Crowell said. The snow pack this year is big. Local officials haven’t been able to drive to the Green Peter Lookout yet, due to snow on the access road, although they have walked up to it.

Regulated use on the Quartzville Corridor will be in effect by the weekend of July 4, Crowell said. The restriction regulates fireworks and campfires, among other things. The rest of the district probably will go into regulated use later.

The Sweet Home Unit plans to host its annual fire school on June 23. The Sweet Home Unit’s fire crew will be full starting on Monday. By July 4, they’ll be ready to roll seven days a week, Crowell said.

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.

Kevin Kreitman, Linn County Fire Defense Board Chief, advised residents that across the three-counties, firefighters are spread thin.

“A lot of the areas are protected by volunteer departments with limited resources,” he said. “So we ask people to exercise caution.”

Benton County Fire Defense Board Chief Rick Smith encouraged residents to contact their local fire department for advice on burning as well as alternatives for disposal of yard waste.

“Most of our departments have non-emergency or burn advisory phone numbers you can call with questions about burning,” he said. “Also, chipping woody waste for compost is good way to avoid burning.”

Rural fire agencies and the Oregon Department of Forestry have the authority to enforce and regulate the burn ban. Under Oregon Revised Statute Chapter 477, the department may issue citations for violation of the burning restrictions.

For more information on the open burning restrictions as well as advice on safe debris disposal, contact ODF Sweet Home Unit at 367-6108.