Volunteers respond to a dozen calls

by: PHOTO BY KEN KLOCK - Local photographer Ken Klock captured this vibrant image of the Madras Sparklers' annual Fourth of July  fireworks display at Madras High School.While many people spent July 4 enjoying the traditional activities of the day — the annual parade and fireworks display — the Jefferson County Fire Department was kept busy with the unintended consequences of fireworks.

Volunteers responded a dozen calls throughout the day, with most related to fireworks, from barkdust fires to grass fires to a medical call due to fireworks.

"There was 40 minutes there where we had seven calls," said Brian Huff, fire chief, who was out on calls until 2 a.m. July 5. "I think that was just a taste of what the fire season could be."

Even though it's early in the season, June was cooler than usual, followed by rain, which encouraged the growth of "fine, flashy fuel, like cheatgrass," he said. "One spark and they'll ignite."

The largest fire of the day was a quarter-acre fire along U.S. Highway 26, at Pelton Dam Road. A family from Washington was staying at Pelton, and went to Madras to watch fireworks, and then returned and set off their own fireworks.

"They were parked in a driveway, with dried cheatgrass, sagebrush and juniper on both sides," said Huff, noting that Warm Springs Fire and Safety was first on the scene. "Luckily the fire was on the side that was backing into the wind, so it didn't grow as big."

The fire burned sagebrush, juniper and dried grass, but there was no damage to any property, so Huff just issued a warning.

In North Madras Heights, sparklers set fire to the grass surrounding a home. "Luckily, it didn't ignite their fence, but it got right up to that," he said.

According to Huff, the department handled the most calls it had since the early 2000s, "when we used to patrol."

"It was a very busy night, but there was nothing major that happened," he reported.

Although the fire department confiscated some illegal aerial fireworks, all of the fires to which they responded were caused by fireworks that were legally available in Oregon.

With the forecast for warm and dry weather, Huff reminded area residents to be "very cautious with any hot objects or anything that produces sparks, because from this point forward, it looks like we're going to be hot."

The open burning season remains closed, and residents must call the fire department before any burning.

From dawn until 10 a.m., people can burn wood-based products, such as cardboard and paper, in a screened burn barrel with tiny air holes on the sides, he said, "so the fire can get combustion."

"Anything that produces a lot of smoke or an unfavorable smell is never allowed," he said. "No plastics or garbage."

Contact the fire department at 541-475-7274 before burning, or to report illegal burns.

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