Hot weather sends fire danger up

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Last week’s high temperatures marked the turning point into high fire danger levels for this summer’s fire season.

The fire danger on Friday and Saturday reached a critically high level with the heat and lack of moisture, said Kevin Crowell, Oregon Department of Forestry Sweet Home unit forester.

“These next few days are going to be critical for us.”

Last week, the Sweet Home Unit added its highland areas, those areas near the Sweet Home Ranger District, to those under regulated use, which includes campfire bans and other restrictions, already in effect in low-lying forest areas, such as the Quartzville Corridor.

The fire danger designation increased to high, and the industrial precaution level increased to level three. The Forest Service had not implemented any public use restrictions in national forests as of Monday.

With last week’s high pressure and low humidity, fire will burn rapidly, Crowell said. On the Haines index, the Sweet Home area is at level six, the highest level on that index, which means fires can rapidly grow large.

Fire officials were bracing for thunder and lightning storms over the weekend with the hot weather and lightning subsiding early this week, with temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s and some humidity recovery.

He expected temperatures to start rising again, he said. With the fuels cured, any moisture they gained this week will quickly disappear.

This area is just getting into the critical part of its fire season, Crowell said. Usually, rain in the third week of August keeps things average, but so far, that rain hasn’t materialized.

“Up until this point, we’ve just had an average number of fires,” he said. The biggest in the Sweet Home area so far this year was three-fourths of an acre on Swamp Mountain.

Since July 1, Sweet Home Unit has made 54 fire runs, Crowell said. Most of those have been small roadside, ditch line fires and abandoned campfires in the Quartzville Corridor. So far, fire officials have found 11 abandoned campfires.

“We’re just asking people to be very, very careful out there right now,” Crowell said. “We haven’t been this high for a couple of summers now.”