As the 2007 fire season came to a close, fire officials in Crook County exhaled a sigh of relief.
>Weak effects of La Nina contribute to fewer fires
"Crook County was below average. A lot of the lightning storms didn't hit our area," Grant Kemp said, emergency operations manager for the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center. "There were large fires around Burns and John Day. They got the brunt of the lightning this year and it just didn't hit our area. It's just kind of luck of the draw. Normally we get more than more than they do."
In May of 2007, Dan O'Brien, a fire management analyst for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, predicted a "fairly normal summer" for the Prineville area.
"Basically what they're finding is the El Ni¤o conditions have faded and we have a weak La Ni¤a. Typically, La Ni¤a, which is a cool sea surface temperature, cools the air overhead which means less of that tropical moisture gets pumped up into our country. It might mean that we have the usual hot dry summer, but we'll get fewer storms with less lightning."
While O'Brien's forecast was "as good as it's going to get without reading tea leaves", his prediction for Crook County proved to be an educated guess.
The Lookout Mountain Fire District had a total of 32 fires, burning only 11.4 acres.
"That's quick response on our part and lightning caused only 21 fires," Kemp said. "Sometimes we see 21 fires in one day. This is for the whole season, so that's below average. We also saw a decline in human caused - 11 fires for only 3.8 acres - that's pretty good."
The Paulina district saw even less damage with only 13 fires totaling 2.6 charred acres.
The Oregon Department of Forestry land to the north and east of Prineville had the largest amount of land in flames as 29 human and lightning started fires raged through 1776.8 acres.
"There was some smaller fires" Kemp continued. "We had the Foley Mountain fire that was a few hundred acres, and then one near Mud Springs. It's usually access that's a problem or the time of day that they start. How much wind and how dry it is - a lot of things come into play."
Looking ahead at the 2008 fire season, Kemp said he expected the first of the predictions to come in by the end of February.
"We have over 100 percent snowpack in all the areas we measure, and it's still climbing," he said. "That's always a good indicator, but our predictive services folks, they'll come out with their first prediction probably the end of next month, then again in April and June. They'll keep refining it."
For now, in the slow wildfire season, Kemp is looking for four new employees to round out the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center.
"We have entry level positions and then also people with one year fire experience," Kemp added. "They'd work up here in fire logistics or in fire dispatching. We'd kind of see how comfortable they are on the radio or how good they are with computers."
Wildland fire information
For more information about the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center, including fire conditions, year-to-date wildland fires and employment opportunities, visit www.fs.fed.us/r6/centraloregon/fire or call 416-6800.