Fire danger increases to ‘moderate’

By Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

The fire danger level in the Sweet Home area increased to “moderate” Monday morning, while Industrial Fire Precaution remained at Level I.

“We’re finally in fire season,” said Craig Pettinger, Sweet Home Unit Forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry. While fire season – which typically begins around Independence Day – officially began last month, the danger level has remained low.

Fuel moisture remained relatively high with good humidity recovery at night, Pettinger said. For a few days, officials were waiting to see if more rain would come, but it didn’t.

Forecasters had expected more rain last week, Pettinger said. Little fell in the southern part of Linn County, and about .07 inches fell at the Sweet Home Unit, 47th and Main, last week. But even a little shot of rain helped.

“It bought us a few days, but it’s gone,” Pettinger said. On the upside, forecasts are showing relatively mild temperatures. Pettinger doesn’t know if the thermometer will reach 90 degrees in July.

“We’re just ticking up,” Pettinger said. “No real super hot days, no east winds.”

Fire calls have been “very minor,” Pettinger said, mostly burn complaints.

“None of them have gotten out of hand,” Pettinger said, adding that local residents are to thank for that. “When they see it, they report it.”

The Forest Service has had a few abandoned campfires, Pettinger said, but the Sweet Home Unit hasn’t.

The No. 1 issue is debris burning, Pettinger said. “Debris burning is shut down.”

No one should be doing it, he said.

Firefighters responded to several field fires during the spring, before fire season and the burn ban took effect.

That was during a pre-green-up period, Pettinger said, and the fuels were mostly dead plant material from last year.

At this point, most areas with a lot of exposure to the sun are in the process of curing, he said.

Indicators were showing an above average season, Pettinger said. “I think we’ll be around a little bit above average. Eventually, we are going to get warm, and we’ll get dry.”

Around the state, “we don’t have any big fires going,” Pettinger said. The southern part of the state had some early fires, but there hasn’t been anything more than 10 acres in the last month.

Sweet Home Unit firefighters Chad Calderwood and Craig Wilson, along with 38 other ODF firefighters, are currently working in Alaska, which does have a lot of fires, Pettinger said.