Cool, moist weather has delayed the onset of wildfire activity across most of Oregon. But consider the trees as large umbrellas. Even when rainfall has been substantial, the duff layer under the trees can remain dry and flammable.
Fire safety awareness is crucial to prevent dangerous, damaging fires in the forest over the Fourth of July holiday.
A basic, but important safety tip to follow is: Leave the fireworks at home. Even legally sold fireworks that don't fly or explode can ignite forest vegetation and turn a fun family outing into an emergency response.
When building a campfire, always clear the site down to bare soil. Extend the cleared area out to at least five feet on all sides. This will keep the campfire from igniting the duff and causing a smoldering burn that could eventually grow into a wildfire.
And when clearing the ground, be mindful of what's below the surface, too. Wildfires have occurred when recreationists built campfires atop tree roots covered by only a thin layer of soil. The roots may smolder without flame or smoke for days or even months. Then a warm, windy day rekindles the "sleeper fire" into flames.
Don't forget to look up as well. Even live, green growth will burn when a campfire is built under overhanging tree limbs. Rising heat from the fire can dry out the limbs to the point of ignition.
Many campfire-turned-wildfire incidents result when campers leave their fire unattended. A stray spark that lands in nearby grass with no one present to extinguish it is all it takes. Stay with the campfire at all times, and have a bucket of water or shovel nearby.
When it is time to put out the campfire, follow this simple process:
1. Drown all embers, sticks and coals with water
2. Stir the coals to make sure all heat has been removed
3. Drown the area again
A cigarette discarded in the forest may smolder without noticeable smoke for a long time before igniting the abundant fuel bed of conifer needles or leaves. Safely dispose of smoking materials to prevent this ticking time bomb of a wildfire.
OFF-ROAD VEHICLE USE
Only a few seconds of contact with the hot exhaust system of a four-wheel-drive or ATV can set dry grass ablaze. Stay on established roads and trails, and park on gravel surfaces or developed roadside pull-outs to avoid this scenario.
Fire safety tips for camping and recreating in the forest are available on the Keep Oregon Green Association website, KeepOregonGreen.com, and from other wildfire prevention agencies and organizations, as well as local fire departments