Fire season begins in Linn County

Scott Swanson

Fire season began Thursday, June 21, in the Oregon Department of Forestry’s South Cascade Fire protection districts from the mid-coast through the southern Willamette Valley to the crest of the Cascades.

“We’re in fire season a couple of weeks earlier than normal,” said Neil Miller, ODF Wildland Fire Supervisor for the Sweet Home Unit.

“Our energy release components, which looks at the fuel moistures, running close to moderate stage now. Couple of weeks ahead.

We’ve been kind of somewhat in a drought situation right now, with lack of moisture since May. We’re probably 10 inches below normal right now.”

ODF-protected lands covered by the declaration include state, private, county, and city forestland, as well as Bureau of Land Management (BLM) forestlands in western Oregon.

An unusually dry May and early June prompted the declarations, though Miller said the soaking three-day rain earlier this month helped – slightly.

 “The rain a couple of weekends ago helped a little bit,” he said. “It helped slow things down, but it didn’t get a chance to get into the heavier fuels, which is what is going to carry our fires.

“As soon as this grass component, the brush component decides to dry out, which is already showing signs of going there, we’re going to be ripe and ready I think.”

Six other ODF districts and forest protective associations in southern and eastern Oregon have been in fire season since earlier this month due to warm, dry conditions that have elevated fire risk.

Chris Cline, district forester for ODF’s South Cascade District based in Springfield, said fuel moistures in southern Linn and eastern Lane counties are already similar to what they historically would be for the beginning of July.

“We look carefully at local conditions in determining when to declare the start of fire season. What they are telling us is that in our district it is now dry enough for wildfires that do start to have the potential to spread more rapidly.”

As of June 20, more than 200 wildfires were reported on ODF-protected lands throughout Oregon. These burned just over 200 acres. More than 80 percent of those fires were caused by people.

In light of those numbers, West Oregon District Forester Mike Totey said, “Most wildfires at this time of year are triggered by people, so they are almost entirely preventable with some foresight. An activity that might be low-risk when vegetation is thoroughly soaked and humidity is high could ignite a wildfire when longer hours of sunlight, warmth and relatively light rainfall have started drying those fuels out.”

Miller noted that the South Cascade District’s Incident Management Team, including Sweet Home’s Chris Kline, had been dispatched to central Oregon Friday morning, June 22, to help fight four fires burning there.

He predicted that Linn County will likely be looking at public use restrictions some time within the next two weeks.

That move will likely prohibit campfires, fireworks, and use of power tools such as weedeaters, and mowers during certain hours of day – or ban their use altogether.

“For now, we’re just in fire season, which basically means you can have your recreational campfire. You can’t have a burn pile, since we’re already in that burn ban,” Miller said.

Fire season also prohibits tracer rounds, sky lanterns and exploding targets.

Miller cautioned that any of those, especially tracer rounds or exploding targets, used on federal or BLM land will result in a minimum $10,000 fine.

“We’re definitely going to be well into fire season earlier than normal,” he said. We’re just trying to get our firefighters ready.”

The Interagency Fire School is in progress this week at Sweet Home High School, and Miller said he expects to “get all our first-year folks signed off by next Friday.”

“We already have seven-day coverage,” he said Friday. “We will have an engine on this weekend. We’re in fire season.”

Fire restrictions in ODF districts vary somewhat. To find out what restrictions are in place at any given location, go online to ODF’s statewide fire restrictions and closures page at or call the South Cascade office in Springfield at (541) 726-3588 and press 2.