Fire staff promotes prevention in May

Sean C. Morgan

With the weather warming up and the 2018 fire season looming, state fire officials are urging the public to help prevent forest fires and rural property owners to defend their homes against potential fire.

Carl Lemmer is the first of the Oregon Department of Forestry Sweet Home Unit’s seasonal crew members to go to work, said Neil Miller, Sweet Home Unit forest protection supervisor. He is working on grants for fuels reduction projects and building defensible spaces around homes in the urban-forest interface.

The Sweet Home Unit has already responded to two small fires, during the heat two weeks ago, Miller said, assisting the Lebanon Fire District on a fire near the unit border off Bellinger Scale Road.

A day earlier, unit firefighters responded to an escaped debris fire off North River Road, Miller said. The fire got into a couple of oak trees.

People need not only to check the Linn County Burn Advisory at (541) 451-1904 to ensure burning is allowed but also to check the fire in the afternoon as the weather heats up to make sure fires are out, Miller said. “We’re seeing 80-degree days.”

Precipitation is a little below normal thus far this year, Miller said.

As of May 2, measurable rainfall at Foster Dam was down 10 inches from last year’s 33.6 inches.

“But once again, you never know,” Miller said, noting that there has been enough moisture to keep things green along with enough sun to get vegetation growth.

Drought conditions are showing a little around the state, and that allows local insects into the trees, Miller said. At this point, Miller is anticipating an average season around Sweet Home, but southeast, central and southwest Oregon are already expecting high fire danger and drought conditions by July.

The forecast showed a shot of rain this week, Miller said, but changing conditions make accurate weather predictions difficult.

Last year, the Sweet Home Unit had 20 “stat” fires, in which firefighters took significant action, and about 111 calls, Miller said. A total of 1.79 acres burned.

“I can say it was pretty successful,” Miller said. “The crews do an excellent job on the initial attack.”

Miller also credited rural fire departments’ support.

Looking forward, fire officials are emphasizing fire prevention. Locally, Miller has coffee sleeves supplied by Keep Oregon Green out at the local coffee shops as well as shops in Lebanon and Brownsville.

Saturday, Miller will display a model demonstrating defensible space around homes during the Lebanon community appreciation day to be hosted by Lebanon Fire District from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Cheadle Lake in Lebanon.

The 37th annual poster contest contest for local schoolchildren is under way, Miller said. He is picking up posters this week. They will be displayed at the city library. He will inform Oak Heights, Hawthorne and Foster schools of winners.

Members of the Sweet Home High School Art Club will recreate the posters on wood panels for display at Shea Point.

During May, Wildfire Awareness Month, fire officials will promote fire prevention in relation to debris burning, recreational fires and defensible space around rural homes, Miller said.

In the wake of last year’s serious wildfire season, the governors of Oregon and nine other Western states are proclaiming May 2018 as Wildfire Awareness Month. The chief executives have signed a joint proclamation encouraging all citizens to “take steps to better prepare their home and communities for wildfires and work toward becoming a fire-adapted community.”

“The governor, along with the Keep Oregon Green Association, the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal, is seeking the public’s help to prevent human-caused wildfires like the ones that swept the state last summer,” said Kris Babbs, president of the Keep

Oregon Green Association. “It is vital that all Oregonians work with their neighbors to plan and prepare for fire season, especially in those areas currently experiencing drought as well as the more fire-prone landscapes of central and southwest Oregon. Educating yourself now about how fires can get started will be key in reducing wildfire starts.”

Wildfire Awareness Month will provide lots of opportunities for people to educate themselves about wildfire causes and consequences and to participate in community fire prevention projects.

Wildfires in the wildland-urban interface often are started by human activity, such as debris burning or lawn mowing, and then spread to the forest. Once underway, a fire follows the fuel, whether it is trees or houses.

“Simple prevention strategies can make your home, family and community much safer,” said Oregon Department of Forestry’s Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields. “Spring is the perfect time to remove dead or flammable

vegetation from around houses and other structures and to limb up trees around the yard. The goal is to reduce nearby fuels that pose a fire risk.”

To learn more, from May through June, the World Forestry Center in northwest Portland is hosting a family-friendly exhibit about wildfire produced by the

Oregon Department of Forestry and the Keep Oregon Green Association. Modern and vintage ODF fire engines and Smokey Bear will be on site on Saturday, June 9.

For more information, visit the following websites: Keep Oregon Green,; Oregon Dept. of Forestry,; Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal,

Follow Oregon wildfire news and prevention updates on social media: Twitter @keeporegongreen, @ORDeptForestry and Facebook pages Keep Oregon Green and ODF Fire Prevention.