Dry fuels tinder for 21 wildland fires
Since mid-June, when weather abruptly changed from cool and overcast to hot and dry, Jefferson County Fire District No. 1 has responded to 21 wildland fires and two structure fires, according to Fire Chief Brian Huff.
"Both structure fires occurred during the heat of the day, with temperatures over 90 degrees," said Huff, recalling a roof fire on a house on Deschutes Drive on June 28, and a July 3 fire that destroyed a home southwest of Culver.
"When both structure fires occurred, the fire district was already fighting other wildland fires," he said.
Usually, fire season begins right around or right after Fourth of July, he said. With the hot, dry weather, "It feels like August."
"It only takes an hour for the fine flashy fuel, like cheat grass, to be cured out in hot weather," he explained, pointing out that sagebrush takes about 100 hours to dry out, and trees, about 1,000.
Grasses and sagebrush have fueled numerous fires, including a flashy one-quarter to one-half acre fire on reported at 3:44 p.m. on July 5, along Canyon Road under the train trestle.
"We're not leaving smokes," said Capt. Mark Johnson. "On smaller fires, when we get into more critical fire weather, we like to mop them up 100 percent."
When another grass fire was reported on Dogwood Lane at 3:59 p.m., "people from this fire left to go to Dogwood," he said.
The district also asked for mutual aid from Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch, which sent crews to the second fire.
"I believe the canyon fire was a hot start off the road — anything from intentially set to a spark from a hot vehicle exhaust; the other could be that as well," said Huff, referring to the 4- to 5-acre Dogwood fire.
However, he noticed that there were shiny metal wheel covers on the fence, which could have refracted sunlight onto the grass and started the fire. "Please check your properties for these types of things around and near combustibles, such as dry grasses," he said.
Firefighters were on that fire until about 9:30 p.m.
Back in June, he said, "We had 35-acre fire down at Pelton, started by an electric golf cart motor." Because it was located on tribal property, the Warm Springs Bureau of Indian Affairs took over that fire. "That's what started off our early wildland season."
"The fire district would like to ask our citizens to have a conversation with their families and friends about fire safety and how the risk of igniting a fire increases greatly during hot and dry weather," said Huff. "We are seeing cigarette-caused fires around structures. Please remind each other to only discard ashes from hot materials into a metal container that is away from other combustible materials, such as combustible decks and siding."
"We are also seeing fires from yard debris and landscaping materials," he continued. "As yard debris and landscaping materials break down, the process creates heat. In an already hot and dry environment, it greatly increases the chances of this material creating enough heat to cause a fire if left too close to other dry combustible material."
If you see a fire, Huff recommends calling 911 to report it and then, if you can do so safely, trying to put the fire out.
"This will become even more important during the weekend and week of the upcoming solar eclipse in August," he said. "Please keep your property well irrigated and be prepared with water and shovels, etc., to protect your own property and neighbors, if can do so safely, as all emergency services are ramping up with personnel, but are expected to be extremely busy and possibly overwhelmed by emergencies."
During the week of the total eclipse, he advised, expect delays in response times. "Cell phone systems are expected to possibly be overwhelmed, so also have a backup plan for your family in case you cannot get out to 911."