Burning ban starts June 16

Sean C. Morgan

A ban on backyard burning begins Saturday, June 16, in Linn County, along with Benton and Marion counties.

The ban is meant to reduce the incidence of open debris burns escaping control and will likely end around Oct. 15, depending on fire danger.

Fire officials say growth of grasses has been shaping up to produce some serious fire risk as the weather gets drier.

“A lot of green-up is occurring due to the current weather patterns,” said Mike Beaver, Linn County Fire Defense Board chief. “We expect this to result in heavy fuel loading for the grass models as temperatures rise and the fuels dry out.”

Mountain snows have delayed fire risks in the high country thus far, said Unit Forester Ed Keith, Oregon Department of Forestry Sweet Home Unit.

“We were lucky enough to get a good snowpack in the high country,” he said.

A week ago, things were drying out quickly, Keith said, but last week’s rain has helped hold off that process.

Thousand-hour fuels had been dropping off at average rates during May prior to the rain, Keith said. Those include large downed branches, logs and tree stumps that burn only under prolonged dry conditions, or when sufficiently pre-heated by adjacent fuels. They can often act as fire breaks.

“It’s probably a little below average as far as severity, but it’s going to be hot and dry in July and August and we will have a fire season.”

The past couple of years Sweet Home has been fortunate, he said, and last spring was cold and wet.

Predictions are difficult, but Keith said the fire season is shaping up to be a little more dangerous than the past couple of years, though it appears it will remain below average.

The fuels are back to drying out this week, said Forest Protection Supervisor Neil Miller.

Fire danger will be highest in the east and especially the southeast, which has had a drought, Miller said. Meteorologists are predicting more lightning this year too.

“We’re kind of in a stall, ending La Niña into El Niño,” Miller said. That sets up warmer, drier weather mid to late summer.

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 limits.

“We hope this ban on residential burning spurs increased public awareness of wildfires and what people can do to help protect their own property,” Benton County Fire Defense Board Chief Rick Smith said. “The work that a property owner does now to maintain 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.”

The Sweet Home Unit’s fuels reduction crews are working again this year, and they’re looking for projects, Keith said. Anyone interested in the program should contact the Sweet Home Unit for information.

The fire defense board chief encouraged property owners to explore other options during the burn ban. Alternatives to burning include chipping, hauling debris to recycling centers and composting. All of these options are now available to the public year-round.

Rural fire agencies and the Oregon Department of Forestry have the authority to enforce and regulate the burn ban and may issue citations for violation of the burning restrictions.

Fire season will probably begin around the Fourth of July, possibly as early as July 2. Regulated use on the Quartzville Corridor will begin at the same time, restricting campfires to rings. The exact day depends on rain.

For more information on the open burning restrictions as well as advice on safe debris disposal, contact the Department of Forestry Sweet Home Unit at (541) 367-6108.