Forest fires in county triggered by human causes

We are fortunate to live in a beautiful part of Oregon.

Forest Grove is surrounded by agriculture to the north and south, and to the west the Oregon Coast Range calls on us to recharge our batteries with a bounty of recreational adventures.

Almost all of us have taken in what the Tillamook State Forest and surrounding timber lands have to offer; some of us are lucky enough to live right in the foothills with the forest as our backyard. A lot of us have hiked or taken an ATV on one of the trails that meander through the shaded trees, while some enjoy the bone chilling waters of the Wilson River on a hot August day, and almost everyone has taken a drive to the beach and gazed upon the stunning views from the north coast highways.

Imagine stepping back in time and instead of a green forest shading your drive, all that you see are blackened trees, their bark charred from the raging fires that burned across the land. Instead of sitting in your yard and watching a pink sky sunset on a summer evening, the sun is obscured by billowing smoke clouds as the forest burns below.

This hasn't happened in northwest Oregon since 1951, but it can and likely will happen again and it's our responsibility to be ready for it. That's why Governors from Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and California have declared the first week in May to be Wildfire Awareness Week: To raise awareness of the real dangers that wildfires pose.

While the week of recognition is behind us, wildfire season is just around the corner and now is the perfect time to get your home and property ready for fire season.

Take care in forest

Here's the deal for northwest Oregon residents, if we want to prevent a wildfire tragedy in our area the first step is that we choose to live responsibly. We don't get the lightning storms that other parts of our state get, so when we have wildfires we have only ourselves to blame. A vast majority of our wildfires are caused by carelessness or poor decision making and it's up to us to make sure that we prevent this from happening during this summer's fire season.

In 2010 a campfire was left burning on David Hill Road and spread to nearly 14 acres of private timber land and came within a few hundred yards of nearby homes before firefighters could get a handle on it.

During the highest fire danger point of the summer of 2011 a man using a cutting torch near Gaston caught a few acres of grass on fire. Luckily firefighters stopped the fire within feet of a nearby home.

Situations like these repeat themselves year after year in our area. We can do better by making sure our Spring burn piles are out and never burning or using open flames outside once fire season starts. We need to pay attention to what we are doing and have tools handy to control a fire when we have to work on cars or machinery with dry grass or brush nearby. 

Take care at home

Fire season is just now starting, despite a bout of June rain. Now is the perfect time to get your property ready for the summer months.

Start by taking a look at your roof, if you live with the woods nearby we encourage you to consider fire-resistant roof construction but if you can't afford a new roof right now you can still help by cleaning your roof, eaves, and gutters, and removing the build up of moss, leaves, and tree needles.

Next take a look around the house and make sure that within 30 feet of your home you have an adequate fire break to protect your home from a wildfire. Remove all dead vegetation within this area, as well as any brush, trees, grasses, or even fire wood that come in direct contact with your home. Beyond this initial 30 feet take a close look at your 'secondary fire break' and clear any dead vegetation, tall grass, and dense trees or brush, within 8 feet of the ground for 100 feet around your home. Finally make sure your driveway is accessible and clear enough (at least 12 feet wide with 14 feet of overhead clearance from limbs) for fire engines to get to your home and that you have a nicely marked address sign so that we can find your home quickly. 

Dave Nemeyer is a division chief with Forest Grove Fire and Rescue and serves as fire marshal and public information officer.

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