Fire Awareness Week focuses on responsible burning

For the fourth consecutive year, Gov. Kulongoski has declared May 4-10 as “Wildfire Awareness Week.”

“This week is set aside each spring to remind everyone that we live in a beautiful, but high wildfire risk state,” said Chad Calderwood of the Oregon Department of Forestry Sweet Home Unit. “Living here comes with a price. And if we’re going to ‘Keep Oregon Green,’ we need to do a better job of acting responsibly when living in or recreating in the forests or rangelands.

“And speaking of being responsible, backyard debris burning, which includes burn piles and burn barrels, is the leading careless human behavior that causes wildfires in Oregon (273 fires burned 1,828 acres in 2007).”

Spring is the perfect time to remove dead vegetation and limb up trees to reduce the threat from wildfire, Calderwood said. By following a few simple steps to get rid of brush and yard debris, we can all rest a bit easier. The Oregon Dept of Forestry Sweet Home Unit recommends chipping your debris which is a fire safe alternative. But if you must burn, do so responsibly.

The official fire season may not be unde rway yet, but the danger is real already, Calderwood said. On the afternoon of April 12 Oregon Dept of Forestry Sweet Home Unit, along with units from Lebanon and Sweet Home fire departments, responded to multiple escaped debris burns, taxing local fire agencies within the east county due to warming temperatures and low relative humidity. The combination of these fires resulted in five acres being consumed.

Before burning, call the Linn County burn information number 451-1904 to see if it is a burn day, Calderwood said. In many rural areas, pile burning and burn barrels is a viable way to get rid of debris – tree branches, brush cuttings, needles and leaves.

When burning:

– Choose a site where flames, radiant heat and airborne embers won’t set nearby vegetation on fire. Horizontal clearance should be twice the height of the pile. This fire trail should be scraped to mineral soil to prevent the fire from traveling outside the pile. Vertical clearance needs to be at least three times the height of the pile. A burning pile of tree branches will send visible flames several feet into the air above the pile, but the invisible heat influence will go up even higher. Make sure there are no overhanging tree branches and no power lines anywhere above the pile.

– Keep burn piles small, and make sure that your burn barrel has adequate ventilation and a one-fourth-inch mesh screen cover. Put the smallest twigs and branches – which will ignite quickly – on the bottom of the pile. Keep leaves, needles and bark in an adjacent pile so they can be added to the burning pile after a vigorous heat source has been created. It is illegal to burn plastic, tires and just about anything else that isn’t from a tree or shrub.

– Never burn on windy days. Make sure that your charged garden hose reaches all the way around the burn site. Keep the perimeter hosed down during the burning process. Also, park a shovel near to where you’ll be burning.

Taking the time to plan an open burning project and equipping yourself with basic fire suppression tools before lighting the match will dramatically reduce the chance of a burn pile fire getting out of control, Calderwood said.

For more information on safe debris burning and other important wildfire prevention tips, visit, or call Oregon Department of Forestry Sweet Home Unit at 541-367-6108.