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Drought may not spell busy fire season

Ochoco National Forest personnel believe wet spring weather could temper the presence of wildfires


With the arrival of spring come the sounds of chainsaws, and the smell of smoke, to the national forests.

It’s the season of prescribed burns, as managed by the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland.

“Prescribed fires, often completed in conjunction with thinning and mowing, reduce hazardous fuels, which may decrease future wildfire intensity and allow for more effective containment,” said Central Oregon Fire Management Service’s Lauren Miller. “Prescribed fire is also one tool used by fire managers and ecologists to improve forest and rangeland health and protect the quality of our watersheds and wildlife habitat.”

According to Patrick Lair, public affairs officer with the Ochoco National Forest, 1,500 acres in the East Maury Mountains has already been burned.

“A lot of that burn was what we call ‘jackpot’ burning,” he said. “That burn processed a lot of down juniper that had been previously thinned.”

Despite the recent drought declaration for Crook County by Gov. John Kitzhaber, Lair is not yet concerned about serious fire dangers.

“It is still a little early to have a seasonal outlook for Central Oregon,” said Lair. “Spring precipitation can still have a strong effect on forest fuel sources.”

While admitting that this past winter season was dry, Lair said it doesn’t compare to conditions in southern Oregon or California.

“We recognize that we are below average for snowpack this winter,” he said. “But we are not drastically below, and could still get some big weather events that would change things locally.”

Those walking in the woods may notice neatly packed piles of forest fuels, stacked like huts throughout the forest floor.

Lair terms that “hand piling.”

“We go through with loppers or chain saws and thin out small material debris,” said Lair. “It gets piled to let it dry out and we return in the wet winter months to ignite the piles.”

According to Lair, fire season gets going around the beginning of June and continues until the snow flies in October. So, Lair wants homeowners, and visitors to the forest, to remain vigilant.

“We are always encouraging homeowners to be aware of what we call ‘defensible space,’” he said, recommending that residents visit websites like firewise.org for more information. The site offers interactive modules, games and quizzes regarding how wildfire behaves and what homeowners can do to make their homes safer.

Lair also suggests that visitors to the forest check the forest’s burn schedule before heading out.

“We encourage people to check our schedule while planning a trip,” he said. “It’s always nice to know before you go if there is going to be smoke in the air.”




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