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Spring cleanup should prevent, not start, wildfires

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO - A wildfire near Hagg Lake between Forest Grove and Gaston called the Scoggins Creek Fire burned 400 acres in 2014. Many Oregonians have good intentions when they set out to eliminate the fire hazards around the home. But the way they go about it may actually start a wildfire.

Using the right tool in the right place at the right time is crucial during clean-up. Get any of these wrong, and the outcome could be disastrous.

In late July 2015, the Stouts Creek Fire in Southwest Oregon ignited, eventually growing to more than 26,000 acres and costing millions of dollars to put out. The blaze was caused by a resident mowing dry grass, with the probable intention to reduce the fire hazard.

Spring is the time to clean up excess vegetation — not during the summer when fuels are dry and susceptible to a spark from a steel blade striking a rock or emitted by a hot exhaust system. Improper equipment use ranks as the No. 2 cause of wildfires on state-protected lands in Oregon.

Here are some wildfire prevention tips:

n Follow current fire restrictions — Check with the local Oregon Department of Forestry district or forest protective association to learn if there are any current restrictions or regulations on the use of internal combustion engines (lawn mowers, chainsaws, weed trimmers). Some areas may restrict their use depending on weather and vegetation conditions.

n Mow before 10 a.m. — The best time of day to use gas-powered equipment is early morning, when the humidity is higher and temperatures are lower. Never mow when it’s windy or excessively dry.

n Use the right tool for the job — Lawn mowers are designed to mow lawns, not weeds or tall, dry grass. Use a weed trimmer with plastic line, instead of metal blades that can strike rocks, create sparks and start a wildfire. Remove rocks in the area before you begin operating any power equipment to avoid sparks.

n Portable gas-powered equipment must have an approved spark arrester — In wildland areas, an escaped carbon particle from a muffler may be all it takes to start a fire. This includes cars, tractors, harvesters, chainsaws, weed trimmers and mowers. Keep the exhaust system in proper working order, spark arresters clear of carbon build-up, and the engine free of oil and dust. Allow equipment to cool before refilling with gasoline. Use the recommended grade of fuel and don’t top it off.

Wildfire awareness, preparedness and prevention are crucial this year. Learn more at: keeporegongreen.org.