About two-thirds of the wildfires that occur in Oregon each year are caused by people. Most result from carelessness, but a few are deliberate. To curb arson fires, the Oregon Department of Forestry, U.S. Forest Service and Oregon State Police will activate the Wildland-Urban Interface Arson Patrol on July 1.
Retired OSP troopers Jim Davis of Klamath Falls and Bill Lyons of Bend will take on the two-fold duties of fire prevention education and arson investigation. The beat is a familiar one to both men, as each worked the arson patrol in years past.
Arson likely accounts for only a small percentage of the total wildfires. But arsonists often become most active at the peak of the season, when firefighting resources are stretched thin. By deterring wildland arsons, Lyons and Davis can help free up firefighters and equipment to battle other blazes.
The patrol began in 1997 in response to significant forest resource losses caused by arsonists earlier that decade.
"Initially, the main mission of the project was to patrol high-risk arson areas and respond to critical or emerging situations," ODF's Jeff Bonebrake said. "It later expanded to provide increased investigative capacity, basically tapping the skills and training already possessed by these senior troopers."
During the 2012 wildfire season, the two officers will conduct patrols in their home areas. Klamath County and Deschutes County are considered "high fire" areas by ODF, due to the hot, dry weather, vegetation types and general remoteness. They will also be on call to travel elsewhere in the state to assist with arson investigations.
A federal State Fire Assistance grant funds the Arson Patrol, which will operate throughout the fire season.
The public is encouraged to report suspected arson activity by calling the Arson Patrol Hotline, 1-800-452-7888.