Rain’s arrival triggers end of fire season

Sean C. Morgan

Fire season, regulated use and the burn ban ended last week as fire danger plummeted to low and the Industrial Fire Precaution Level to zero.

Fire season and regulated use, which limits campfires along with other restrictions, ended on Oct. 14. The burn ban ended on Oct. 15. Call the burn line at (541) 451-1904 to check on burn days.

Fire season was quiet around Sweet Home, with less than 1.5 acres burned, said Chad Calderwood, forest protection supervisor with the Oregon Department of Forestry Sweet Home Unit. But that doesn’t mean the staff wasn’t active.

“We were very busy supporting fires across the state,” Calderwood said. At home, while they faced little fire, ODF officials were busier than usual responding to 112 calls during the season. They usually respond to 60 or 70 calls.

“A lot of those are burn complaints,” he said. That includes illegal burns, backyard burns and regulated use violations.

Sweet Home Unit firefighters assisted with a couple of lightning fires on the Eastern Lane Unit, just over the county line, and assisted with a couple of lightning fires in the Lebanon area, he said. They also responded to a couple of vehicle fires.

“We had guys out there patrolling actively and frequently,” Calderwood said. “We caught a lot of abandoned campfires confined within the ring.”

Last month, during a strong east wind event, ODF crew members responded to two power line fires caused when branches fell on wires.

The largest fire of the season came late, Oct. 13, Calderwood said. The fire burned six-tenths of an acre of Starker land in the Mountain Home area west of Sweet Home. The fire burned through grass into some brush and oak but stopped at reprod.

Lebanon and Brownsville fire departments assisted on the fire, he said.

Starker had 400 slash piles located below the fire, he said, adding that earlier in the season, that could have been a significant fire.

Across the state, the Sweet Home Unit sent firefighters out four or five times each to the Southwest District, Central Oregon, Southern Oregon and the Deception Complex outside Oakridge. Early in the season, Calderwood went to the Bingham Complex near Detroit.

Sweet Home was fortunate when thunderstorms affected surrounding areas this year. For the most part, the lightning struck outside the Sweet Home Unit’s protected lands.

“All in all, we had a safe summer and no injuries,” Calderwood said. The unit had a lot of enforcement action, citing four people into court and warning numerous others.

“I thank the public for helping us have another successful summer with (low) acreage loss,” he said. “We had a lot of help from the public.”

Members of the public called in fires when they saw smoke, and they often suppressed fires before firefighters arrived, he said. “Public participation gets better and better every year. It helps us keep the fires small.”

Now that summer is over, Sweet Home Unit officials are turning their attention to slash burning, he said, and they will work hard to minimize the effects of smoke on the community.

Looking forward, early predictions for the weather are indicating above normal temperatures and below normal rainfall, Calderwood said, as he recalled fires in Oregon in January. Those kinds of conditions lead to east winds, which quickly dries out fuels.