Foresters urge ‘extreme’ caution with fire

Forestry officials are urging outdoors enthusiasts and local residents to exercise extreme caution with fire as efforts continued to find and put out fires from a swarm of lightning strikes that began last week.

More than 1,200 lightning strikes pummeled forestland in eastern Lane and Linn counties on Tuesday, Aug. 17. Lightning-caused fires can simmer deep in the forest for days before rapidly growing large enough to detect.

One fire, located near the Three Pyramids in the Sweet Home Ranger District, has grown to an estimated six acres in size, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

“We expect to find more ‘sleeper’ fires every afternoon as the clouds lift and the sun warms up the ground,” said Lena Tucker, district forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry’s South Cascade District in Sweet Home.

“We always urge the public to be cautious in using fire, but that is doubly important now, when the response to the lightning storms is stretching resources very thin.”

The Oregon Department of Forestry, the U.S. Forest Service, other firefighting agencies, and forest landowners are all making essential contributions. “The whole system is coordinated and working well,” Tucker said. “But it will take some time to find all the fires.”

The Oregon Department of Forestry protects about 1.3 million acres of forestland in its South Cascade District, which has offices in Springfield and Sweet Home. The Forest Service has fire protection responsibility on the Willamette National Forest.

On private lands, Tucker said, “Landowners have been actively patrolling their ownerships and notifying us of any smoke they detect. We could not cover all the land we protect if they were not assisting us.” Landowners also take direct fire suppression action.

The lightning sweep has caused at least five fires, all stopped at less than an acre, on state-protected land. The Willamette National Forest has reported about 125 lightning-caused fire starts.

Public use restrictions are in effect in the area. These include:

1. Smoking is prohibited while traveling, except in vehicles on improved roads, in boats on the water, and on sand or gravel bars that lie between water and high water marks that are free of vegetation.

2. Open fires are prohibited, including campfires, charcoal fires, cooking fires and warming fires, except at designated locations. Portable cooking stoves using liquefied or bottled fuels are allowed.

3. Chain saw use is prohibited in areas subject to Industrial Fire Precaution Level III and IV.

4. Chain saw use is prohibited, between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., in areas subject to Industrial Fire Precaution Level I and II. Chain saw use is permitted at all other hours, if the following fire fighting equipment is present with each operating saw: one axe, one shovel, and one operational 8 ounce or larger fire extinguisher. In addition, a fire watch is required at least one 1 hour following the use of each saw.

5. Use of motorized vehicles, including motorcycles and all terrain vehicles, is prohibited, except on improved roads or for the commercial culture and harvest of agricultural crops.

6. All motor vehicles must be equipped with one gallon of water or one operational 2 1/2 pound or larger fire extinguisher, one axe, and one shovel, except when traveling on state and county roads. All-terrain vehicles and motorcycles must be equipped with one operational 2 1/2 pound or larger fire extinguisher, except when traveling on state and county roads.

7. Use of fireworks is prohibited.

8. Cutting, grinding and welding of metal is prohibited, between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Cutting, grinding and welding of metal is permitted at all other hours, if conducted in a cleared area and if a water supply is present.

9. Use of exploding targets is prohibited.

10. Mowing of dried and cured grass with power driven equipment is prohibited, between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., except for the commercial culture and harvest of agricultural crops.

11. Blasting is prohibited between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Blasting is permitted at all other hours, if conducted in a cleared area and if a water supply is present.

To report a wildfire, people should call 911.

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