Temperate temperatures, moisture drop fire danger a notch

By Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Thanks to low temperatures, relatively high moisture and a shot of rain early Thursday morning, the Oregon Department of Forestry South Cascades District reduced the fire danger level from “high” to “moderate” Friday morning.

“We’re officially bumping down,” said Sweet Home Unit Forester Craig Pettinger Thursday afternoon. “It makes sense.”

Wet, cloudy weather continued into the weekend, with cloud cover beginning to break up Sunday.

Early this year, fire officials were predicting an above-average fire season, and in June energy release component data, used to determine fire danger levels, showed worse conditions than a year ago at the same time. The energy release component is a composite of various weather data.

That prompted officials to declare the beginning of fire season in June rather than the typical first week of July.

While conditions last year were above average, near the maximum energy release component data levels, conditions this year improved around the first of July. At this point, energy release component levels are hovering around the average, which is below “extreme” fire danger throughout fire season and in the “high” fire danger range from mid-July to mid-September.

The energy release component level dropped to below average, a little more than 30 by Thursday, below the threshold for “high,” which is about 34.

Forecasts show the weather heating up again this week, Pettinger said, and he expects the fire danger to return to high, but the temporary relief is welcome.

It lets people get work done, he said. They can mow and do other activities longer during the day.

While in moderate conditions, campfires are allowed off designated campgrounds with the permission of land owners, Pettinger said.

The Industrial Forest Precaution Level remained at II, which is not that restrictive, he said.

Fire season has been slow so far, Pettinger said. “Call volume, we’re below average at this point.”

The Sweet Home Unit has responded to just 33 calls so far this year, he said. It was probably double that at the same point last year.

In the past two weeks, the Sweet Home Unit has had no major calls, although it did assist on fires just west of the unit in Brownsville, Halsey, Shedd and Lebanon, where there have been a rash of baler fires.

Around the state, things have stayed quiet so far, he said. The Sweet Home Unit had a few people at the milepost 97 fire in Canyonville. The unit had an engine in John Day last week in anticipation of lightning.

The whole east side of the state was under a red flag warning, Pettinger said, but there were no major fires as of Thursday.

Earlier in the fire season, the Sweet Home Unit sent two firefighters to help in Alaska, which had numerous major fires.

California has been quiet compared to recent years, and Sweet Home hasn’t sent anyone there so far this year.

Northern California was supposed to receive the same moisture Sweet Home did during the weekend, Pettinger said.

“It could turn around easily with a week of east winds,” Pettinger said. In the meantime, the firefighters and their equipment are ready to go and ready to respond.

“Right now, I’ve got a smile on my face.”