Rain brings reprieve to fire levels

Sean C. Morgan

Fire danger levels were reduced Monday following a weekend of rain.

The Industrial Fire Precaution Level went to II from IV, and the danger level went to moderate from extreme.

“The large fuels have not recovered, but the small (1- and 10-hour) fuels have been able to increase fuel moisture significantly,” said Greg Wagenblast, South Cascade District Forester. “They will take a few days to dry as the sun returns. Moisture below the canopy in the timber is elevated but not to the same level in the open reprod and clearcuts.”

The 1,000-hour fuels have increased in moisture content slightly, he said, and he hopes they’ll gain more this week with higher humidity and another chance of showers mid-week.

Public use restrictions have been reduced slightly, Wagenblast said. Campfires are allowed in designated campgrounds if the campground host permits. Mowing of dry grass is permitted before 10 a.m. and after 8 p.m.

“Things are looking good,” said Forest Protection Supervisor Chad Calderwood of the Sweet Home Unit, a part of the South Cascade District. “Things have moderated a bit in time for dry weather over the weekend.”

Locally, the rainstorm brought a couple of lightning strikes to the north part of the unit, Calderwood said. Some local chip plants had some fires from the rain, which caused heat and spontaneous combustion in chip piles.

Firefighters responded to chip fires at Pickett Trucking, Wood Recovery and WPK, he said. They were still working on a fire at Wood Recovery, just past the Narrows off Highway 20, on Monday. Fire went deep into an old chip pile there.

Fires along Courtney Creek, 1.6 acres, and North River, .75 acres, remain the largest to date in the unit so far this year.

“As the weather dries out, we’re just asking people to keep in mind we didn’t receive a whole lot of rain,” Calderwood said. The Sweet Home Unit measured .39 inches over the weekend.

That means dry weather, likely with east winds, will dry fuels out again, he said. He expects to see the danger level rise again.

The weather is forecast to hit the mid- to upper 80s by the weekend, Calderwood said.

As of Monday, campfires were allowed in designated fire rings in Linn County Parks, Lane County Parks, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers parks and Bureau of Land Management Eugene District parks. Salem District BLM parks and state parks remain under a ban, while the BLM is working through paperwork to begin permitting it this week.

The U.S. Forest Service has lifted its ban on campfires and is allowing fires in designated campgrounds.

“We are glad we can allow the use of campfires in campgrounds for the Labor Day weekend,” said Sean Stafford, fire management officer for the Willamette National Forest. “However people still need to be careful with their fires and extinguish them completely when leaving their campsite.

“The wet weather has helped immensely, but it wouldn’t take long for things to dry out again.”

With bow season already started and regular hunting season approaching, Calderwood said the Sweet Home Unit is receiving numerous calls about shooting. Shooting remains prohibited on private lands, but some public lands are allowing it again. Tracer rounds and explosive targets are prohibited as well as campfires outside of certain designated campgrounds.

Anyone with questions should contact the Sweet Home Unit at (541) 367-6108 for information about BLM lands and the Forest Service at (541) 367-5168 for National Forest.

Property managed by Cascade Timber Consulting remains closed, said Milt Moran, vice president. “Our property is still closed to all of the public. We got enough rain to go back to work.”

But it’s not enough yet to reopen the private timber lands, he said. At this point, another drying trend is right around the corner. The rainstorm over the weekend was not part of a fall weather pattern, he said.

“We’ve been really fortunate,” Moran said. “We’ve had that one fire out at Courtney Creek. We’ve been more than fortunate again. I attribute that to the quick action of our Department of Forestry and our local fire departments.”

But he reminds people to be careful. In a conference call with state fire officials last week, Moran said he learned that 540 to 580 of 800 fires in Oregon were caused by humans.