BEND, Ore. -

Rapidly increasing wildfire danger has prompted the Oregon Department of Forestry to tighten public fire prevention restrictions in its Central Oregon District as of Saturday morning.

Effective at 6 a.m. Saturday, these restrictions will be in force on 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.

District Forester George Ponte said very dry vegetation and warm weather are resulting in quickly rising fire danger levels.

"The persistent drought conditions are resulting in very dry fuels. The moisture content of both living and dead vegetation is much lower now than it usually is for this time of year," Ponte said. "New fires are showing rapid growth and increased resistance to control effort. We're seeing burning conditions that we would expect to see in mid- to late July - not the middle of June."

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 for at least one hour following the use of each saw.

* Cutting, grinding and welding of metal is 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-?1/2 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-?1/2 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 by a nationally recognized testing laboratory or certified by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services; and 2) operated in compliance with manufacturer's instructions.

"Landowners and forest operators, and the general public need to be extremely cautious," Ponte said. "Under the right conditions a spark, campfire or carelessly tossed cigarette could result in a large, destructive and costly wildfire that puts firefighters and the public at risk. People should also know that all new fires starts are thoroughly investigated to determine the cause of the fire. If investigators determine who is responsible, that person or persons could be held liable for the firefighting costs which could be in the millions of dollars."

---

Central Oregon had a low level 65 percent snowpack this past winter, and as a result, the threat of wild land fires is both early-and possibly severe-for the 2014 fire season.

The recent Two Bulls Fire, which resulted in significant evacuations, evacuation notices, a FEMA declaration (which was the earliest declaration in Oregon history), and extreme fire behavior, is compelling evidence that this may be an extraordinary fire season.

On Wednesday, June 25, at 10:00 a.m., the Board of County Commissioners will consider a resolution to impose public use restrictions and declaring a state of emergency, under the current dangerous wild land fire conditions. If imposed, the restrictions would help prevent human-caused summer wildfires on all unprotected lands, and Deschutes County-owned lands. If imposed, the restrictions could be in place immediately and through mid-October.

Unprotected lands are defined as lands outside of Rural Fire Protection Districts, and outside of lands covered by the Oregon Department of Forestry (please see the attached map). An interactive map that land owners can look at their own property will soon be available at www.deschutes.org.

The resolution being considered Wednesday includes the following public use restrictions:

  1. Smoking is prohibited while traveling, except in vehicles on improved roads.
  2. 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.
  3. Chainsaw use is prohibited, between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.  Chainsaw use is permitted at all other hours, if the following firefighting equipment is present with each operating saw: one axe, 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.
  4. Cutting, grinding and welding of metal is prohibited between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.  At all other times the area is to be cleared of flammable vegetation and the following fire equipment is required: one axe, one shovel, and one 2 ½ pound or larger fire extinguisher in good working order. 
  5. 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 upon their own land while conducting activities associated with their livelihood.
  6. 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 2½ pound or larger fire extinguisher, except all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles which must be equipped with an approved spark arrestor in good working condition.
  7. Mowing of dried grass with power driven equipment is prohibited, between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., except for the commercial culture and harvest of agricultural crops.
  8. Use of fireworks is prohibited.
  9. The release of sky lanterns is prohibited.
  10. The discharging of exploding targets or tracer ammunition is prohibited.
  11. Blasting is prohibited.
  12. Any electric fence controller in use shall be: a) Listed by a nationally recognized testing laboratory or be certified by the Department of Consumer and Business Services; and b) Operated in compliance with manufacturer’s instructions.