Fire Alert

Fire danger rising: red flag warning, forest rules

Temperature records fall amid winds, low humidity, dry fuels

BEND, Ore. - Rapidly increasing wildfire danger has sparked a red flag warning for much of Central Oregon for the next couple of days, and also prompted the Oregon Department of Forestry to tighten public fire prevention restrictions in its Central Oregon District.

Redmond set a record high Tuesday for the second straight day, topping Monday's 99-degree reading with a 102-degree high at Redmond Airport.

Sisters also set a record, reaching 98 degrees, as did Madras, which hit 101 -- but that's lower than the 110 degrees reported in Monument on Tuesday.

The National Weather Service in Pendleton issued the fire-weather warning for noon Wednesday to 10 p.m. Thursday, warning of wind and low relative humidity across lower-elevation areas of the Central Oregon mountains.

Forecasters predict northwest winds 10-20 mph with gusts up to 30 mph, and relative humidity as low as 15 percent. That combination "and critically dry fuels could result in rapid fire spread," they warned.

The new ODF fire restrictions are effective at 6 a.m. on Thursday, July 4. They restrictions apply to private and non-federal public forestlands in 12 counties including Harney, Morrow, Grant, Wheeler, Gilliam,  Hood River, Wasco, Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson, along with small portions of Umatilla and Lake counties.

ODF Assistant District Forester Tracy Wrolson said that the current hot weather is drying vegetation quickly and as a result fire danger levels are increasing dramatically.

"Last week's rains helped delay the onset of severe burning conditions, but this heat wave has erased those benefits," Wrolson said. "Fine fuels like grass and brush will easily ignite now. People need to be extra careful when recreating or working in the forests."

The following activities are restricted or prohibited:

*     Smoking is prohibited while traveling, except in vehicles on improved roads.

*     Open fires are prohibited, including campfires, charcoal fires, cooking fires and warming fires, except in designated areas. Portable cooking stoves using liquefied or bottled fuels are allowed. Open fires are allowed if conducted in compliance with a valid Burning Permit issued pursuant to ORS 477.515.

*     Chainsaw use is prohibited, between the hours of 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.  Chainsaw use is permitted at all other hours, if the following firefighting equipment is present with each operating saw: one ax, one shovel, and one 8-ounce or larger fire extinguisher. In addition, a fire watch is required at least one hour following the use of each saw.

*     Cutting, grinding and welding of metal are prohibited between the hours of 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.  At all other times the area is to be cleared of flammable vegetation and the following fire equipment is required: one ax, one shovel, and one 2-Â1/2 pound or larger fire extinguisher in good working order. 

*     Use of motor vehicles, including motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, is prohibited, except on improved roads and except for vehicle use by a landowner and employees of the landowner on their own land while conducting activities associated with their livelihood.

*     Possession of the following firefighting equipment is required while traveling in a motorized vehicle, except on federal and state highways, county roads and driveways: one shovel and one gallon of water or one 2-Â1/2 pound or larger fire extinguisher, except all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles which must be equipped with an approved spark arrestor in good working condition.

*     Mowing of dried grass with power driven equipment is prohibited, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., except for the commercial culture and harvest of agricultural crops.

*     Use of fireworks is prohibited.

*     The release of sky lanterns is prohibited.

*     The discharging of exploding targets or tracer ammunition is prohibited.

*     Blasting is prohibited.

*     Any electric fence controller in use shall be: 1) Listed be a nationally recognized testing laboratory or be certified by the Department of Consumer and Business Services; and 2) Operated in compliance with manufacturer's instructions.

These restrictions apply to private and non-federal public lands protected by the Department of Forestry. Visitors to National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands should check with the U.S. Forest Service or BLM to see what fire safety restrictions apply.

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