Recent fires prompt warnings as dry weather pattern continues

Scott Swanson

Area fire officials are cautioning homeowners to be careful when burning backyard debris.

A recent spate of escaped debris burns have resulted in serious and preventable damages in the Willamette Valley recently, officials note.

As Sweet Home approaches three weeks with no measurable rainfall, and, according to forecasters, probably at least another week before any moisture arrives.

A fire burned a quarter of an acre on April 26 at the old Triple T mill site in Cascadia and a second fire burned an old travel trailer on Mountain Home Drive. Local fire officials said both started when wind gusts blew burning debris off of fires.

Escaped debris from a slash burn near Glide in Douglas County burned 25 acres on Saturday, May 4.

In another recent incident, a family home was lost when a neighbor’s backyard debris burn caught the structure on fire. Another homeowner lost a truck and farm equipment when the wind lofted sparks from a debris burn into nearby vegetation.

In recent weeks fire officials in Lane County have responded to nine escaped debris burns.

Due to the recent rash of escaped debris burns, the Oregon Department of Forestry is cautioning local residents to use restraint when disposing of backyard debris.

“Many people are taking advantage of the warmer weather to burn their debris piles. Although everything appears green, the vegetation is much drier than it looks,” said Chris Cline, Oregon Department of Forestry District Forester.

“We are in an unseasonable dry stretch of weather. Normally, it is safe to burn at this time of year,” he said. “However, we are asking people to use extra caution when disposing debris with fire.”

As the vegetation dries, it becomes more important to be mindful of fire, Sweet Home Fire Chief Dave Barringer said.

“The finer fuels dry out very quickly – grasses, leaves, needles,” he said. “After all the rain we got, people think that nothing burns around here. That’s true of trees, but fine fuels are dry and they can burn.

“I see at this time of year, people – even me – get a little relaxed and think, ‘Wow, the fuel moisture is up.

“Ground fuels can spread pretty easily to things you don’t want to burn – your house, your vehicle.”

Spring cleaning around the home goes hand in hand with making it less vulnerable to wildfire during the hot, dry summer. But clean-up is often followed by disposal, including debris pile burning in some areas.

ODF recommends following these simple rules when disposing of yard debris:

– Seek alternatives to burning such as chipping or hauling to a landfill.

– Call your local fire department or forest protection agency to see if a burning permit is required.  Burning regulations are not the same in all areas.

– Have a shovel and charged garden hose at the burn site.

– Avoid burning during windy conditions.

– Scrape down to mineral soil around debris piles. 

– Divide large piles into smaller ones; smaller piles are easier to control.

– Stay with the fire until it is completely out. Do not leave.Remember, unattended piles can spread quickly out of control. If your debris burn escapes, call 911 immediately.

– Keep abreast of current conditions and fire season regulations online at www.oregon.gov/odf.

Visit www.keeporegongreen.org for fire prevention information.

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