Fire officials: Time to prepare for fire season

Sean C. Morgan

Though fire season might seem a long way off with the deluge of rainfall Sweet Home has received this year, but wildland firefighters are gearing up and urging homeowners to prepare.

The burn ban will take effect on June 15. The Oregon Department of Forestry Sweet Home Unit’s seasonal crew will be on duty by June 18.

May is Oregon Wildfire Awareness Month. All month long the Oregon Department of Forestry, Keep Oregon Green Association, the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal and fire educators statewide are spreading the word on ways to prevent human-caused wildfires, as well as how to ensure a home survives a forest fire.

“It’s that time of year for folks to be cleaning up around their homes,” said Neil Miller, Sweet Home Unit forest protection supervisor. It’s time to make sure homes in the urban-forest interface can survive possible fires. That means cleaning out gutters, stacking firewood in separate buildings, removing vegetation around buildings and more.

Ideally, homes have metal roofs, with no openings to allow embers into a structure where they can start fires, Miller said.

Before summer arrives, create a circle of safety around your home to protect it from wildfire.

“In a large fire, firefighters may not have the resources to defend every house,” said Kristin Babbs, president of Keep Oregon Green. “Just as you lock the doors to keep your home and family safe, think of creating a fuel-free defensible space. This ‘circle of safety,’ around your home can reduce fire danger and provide safe access to firefighters so they can protect it,”

The main culprits are a wildfire’s hot embers. They can waft through the air a mile or more ahead of the actual flame front. When these embers land, in a matter of minutes they can ignite leaves and needles accumulated on roofs or rain gutters or cause flammable landscape plants to begin burning. In some instances, house fires start after embers on the roof and in gutters have smoldered without smoke for days, creeping into the roof’s underlayment before bursting into open flames.

“You can’t control where these embers land, but you can control what happens when they do,” she said.

Outlook

Miller said that forecasts for the Pacific Northwest this month suggest that the fire season will be average this year.

The high level of moisture this spring will probably delay fire season at higher altitudes, he said. It also means more vegetation, which will create a larger fuel load in the woods.

Since Oct. 4, 2016, Sweet Home has received 58.73 inches of rain, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which monitors rainfall at Foster Dam. That is roughly 150 percent of last year’s rainfall in Sweet Home.

All basins in Oregon are maintaining above normal snowpack for this time of year, with a statewide average of 155 percent as of May 1, according to the latest water supply outlook report released Friday, May 5, by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Oregon.

“We haven’t had a snowpack with this kind of coverage throughout the entire snow season since 2011,” said Julie Koeberle, a hydrologist with the NRCS Oregon snow survey team. “This winter’s cold storms, including several atmospheric rivers that brought copious amounts of precipitation, built large reserves of snow in all of Oregon’s mountain ranges throughout the entire snow season.

Throughout the month of April, cool temperatures and normal snowmelt rates helped to offset the rapid, widespread snowmelt that occurred in March. Although low and mid elevations have experienced significant snowmelt, high elevation snow monitoring sites show the snowpack continuing to build.

Snowpacks across the state accumulated much more snow than normal at the peak of the season this year, which means we are likely to see above average flows in our streams and rivers this summer.”

Conditions this May look vastly different than the last several drought-stricken years, when May 1 statewide snowpack averaged 62 percent in 2014, 11 percent in 2015 and 64 percent in 2016.

April precipitation across the state was well above average for the fifth consecutive month.

“It’s going to take a while for it to evaporate,” Miller said. “We still have higher-level (snowpack) now. I think that will delay things. Compared to the last three, four years, it’s lot more normal.

Another forecast is due the first of June.

Clean up to reduce wildfire threat

To create a circle of safety around your property, start with the house and the first 30 feet extending from the outermost part of the structure, including detached garages and sheds. The roof is the most vulnerable part of the home. Regularly clear leaves and needles from the roof and gutters, and cut back any tree limbs that overhang the roof.

Choose fire-resistant landscaping

Landscaping should consist of low-growing, fire-resistant plants that are spaced carefully so as not to provide fuel close to a structure. Rake leaves and debris from the yard, mow grass, prune trees six to 10 feet up from the ground and keep plants well-watered to prevent a surface fire from climbing into the tree crowns and carrying flames to the house.

Properly placed healthy deciduous trees can actually protect a home by blocking a wildfire’s intense heat. Avoid highly flammable species, such as pine and juniper. Spaces free of fuel, such as driveways, gravel walkways and green lawns can halt the advance of a fire.

In the zone 100 to 200 feet from the home, trees may need to be thinned, though less intensively than those closer in, so that canopies are not touching.

Find more tips on how to create defensible space around your home and protect it from wildfire at: http://www.firewise.org and http://www.keeporegongreen.org

Debris burning

Debris burning remains allowed through June 15. Until then people need to call the burn message line at (541) 401-1904 to make sure burning is permitted on a particular day.

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