Not just lightning: Sneaky fire starters pose risk

Human-caused fires can ignite unexpectedly

Sneaky fire starters cause concern

SUNRIVER, Ore. - Fire officials say human-caused fires, which can often be accidental, tend to burn more acreage than the expected lightning-caused fires.

For a special report on sneaky fire starters, NewsChannel 21 spent the day with a Deschutes National Forest field ranger, who breaks down just how a fire can ignite. 

With a dry climate on the High Desert, caution must be taken in order to prevent human-caused fires.

"Especially in the heat of the summer and how hot the vehicle gets, and how dry the resources may be on the ground, that can definitely cause a fire," said Deschutes National Forest Field Ranger John Bracco.

That's right: Heat from the undercarriage of your car or truck can start a fire. In particular, watch out for those Forest Service roads with untamed grass. 

"Whether that's illegal or legal travel, what we want to do is ensure that folks are aware of where they're traveling," Bracco said.

According to fire officials, over the past 10 years, on average, 232 lightning-caused fires occur on the forest per year, vs. 175 human-caused fires, which they say are tougher to deal with. 

Another way a forest fire can start: When you don't thoroughly put out a cigarette butt. Carelessly flicking it out the window can ignite dry brush.

Also, those popular campfires can be dangerous if left unattended or not put fully out and cold to the touch.

"If you're not right there with the fire, something can happen in an instant," Bracco said.

Bracco said the Forest Service deals with unattended campfires all fire season, and in order to prevent unintentionally starting a wildfire, make sure you contain the fire to a specific area.

"Everywhere on the forest is so dry," Bracco said. "It really doesn't matter where you are on the forest. Any time anything escapes from a fire ring, it has the potential to move -- and to move fast."

Officials say if you are going to go camping, make sure you have a water source and a shovel, because all it takes is one ember to start a fire that could destroy many homes.

"A shovel is probably one that you're going to see more common with forest visitors, and really easy to use when extinguishing a campfire," Bracco said.

Fires can also be started if you don't properly extinguish a campfire. Bracco said you need to be diligent because it doesn't take much to ignite fuels.

"So you want to stir it up and repeat that process a number of times until it is cold to the touch." he said.

Bracco believes it's imperative to be aware of your surroundings, because the forest belongs to everyone -- and all it takes is one seemingly small mistake to destroy it.

"I want to see this (forest) for future generations, for my kids, and the last thing we need is a careless mistake," Bracco said. "A lapse in judgment; just momentary, we could end up losing a lot of this."

Here are some tips to prevent those sneaky fire starters:

  • We can't stress enough, be aware of your surroundings
  • Also, adhere to any restrictions that may be in the area
  • Always have tools to extinguish a fire, and do not use wood thicker than your wrist when starting a campfire

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