SALEM, Ore. - The living and the dead: In this instance, it's not the title of a sci-fi series but a description of our backyards. A look around the property this time of year likely will reveal a mix of flowers in bloom, next to dead grass and the remains of last summer's annuals.
As you begin spring clean-up, fire officials urge you to please consider chipping or recycling your yard debris. But if burning is your only option, here are some tips from the Oregon Department of Forestry to prevent that debris burn from becoming Oregon's next wildfire:
- Call before you burn - If you're planning to burn, check with your local Oregon Department of Forestry district, fire protective association or air protection authority to learn if there are any current burning restrictions or regulations, and whether a permit is required. Fire officials may designate certain days for burning based on weather and wind conditions. (Burning is banned within Bend's city limits, for example.)
- Know the weather forecast - Never burn on dry or windy days. When conditions are windy or dry, it is easy for open burning to spread out of control.
- Clear a 10-foot radius around your pile - also make sure there are no tree branches or power lines above.
- Keep your burn pile small - A burn pile is less likely to escape control if it is kept small. A large burn may cast hot embers long distances. Add debris in small amounts as existing material is consumed.
- Always have water and fire tools on site - When burning, have a charged water hose, bucket of water, and shovel and dirt or sand nearby to extinguish the fire. If you used sand or dirt to knock down a fire, go back and drown the pile with water, stir the coals, and drown again. Repeat until the fire is DEAD out.
- Attend your burn at all times - A burn left unattended for only a few minutes can grow into a costly, damaging wildfire. Monitoring a debris burn continually from start to finish until dead out is required by state law, to ensure that any escaped sparks or embers can be extinguished quickly.
- NEVER use gasoline or other accelerants (flammable or combustible liquids) to start or increase your open fire. Every year, 55-60 percent of all burns treated at the Oregon Burn Center in Portland are the result of backyard debris burning.
- Make sure it's out - Completely extinguish your debris burn before leaving. Go back and recheck old burn piles, as they can retain heat for several weeks and rekindle when the weather warms and wind begins to blow.
- Burn ONLY yard debris - Some plastics, treated lumber and other manufactured products give off toxic fumes when burned. State regulations prohibit the open burning of any material that creates dense smoke or noxious odors.
- Escaped debris burns are costly - State law requires the proper clearing, building, attending and extinguishing of open fires any time of year. A first-time citation carries a $110 fine.
If your debris burn spreads out of control, you are responsible for the cost of fire suppression and very likely the damage to neighboring properties. This can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. ODF spent over $190,000 in 2013 on fires caused by debris burning.
"I encourage homeowners to consider all other options to dispose of their yard waste prior to choosing debris burning," cautions Interim Oregon State Fire Marshal Jim Walker. "Every year, there are a number of fires caused by debris burning, even when done by the most well-intentioned homeowners."
More tips on wildfire prevention, including campfire safety, motorized equipment use, and fire-resistant landscaping can be found on the Keep Oregon Green site, http://keeporegongreen.org/.