Fire season for Central Oregon came to an early start with the Two Bulls Fire igniting near Bend in early June. Drought across the Pacific Northwest has been a major contributor to explosive growth of blazes like the Two Bulls Fire.
In fact, Roberts Field in Redmond is behind more than three inches of precipitation from last October 1st.
“When the Two Bulls Fire ignited, our fire danger indices were at record highs,” said Katharine Hetts, a fire analyst with the Forest Service.
Central Oregon’s fire season is typically from July 1st through early October. Looking at the Southern Oscillation — most commonly referred to as El Niño and La Niña — through October, the oscillation will favor an El Niño pattern.
That means warm ocean water temperatures will drift to the west coast of South America and help spawn daily thunderstorms in Peru and Bolivia. The thunderstorms alter how air flows through the atmosphere across the globe and change how the jet stream sits over North America.
Typically, in a La Niña state, the jet stream stays to the south of the Pacific Northwest, keeping cooler and wetter weather in our region. In an El Niño pattern, the jet stream is pushed north into Canada and takes all the storms with it, resulting in warmer and slightly drier weather for Oregon.
While Oregon is setting up for warmer and drier weather for the rest of fire season, that doesn’t necessarily mean our area will see a lot of wildfires.
“With significantly higher temperatures and somewhat normal precipitation predicted, (the amount of fire) will really depend on ignitions,” Hetts said. “That, obviously, is very difficult to predict.”
Hetts said that if no big fires start, the rest of the fire season will be quiet, despite our dry summer.
“But if they do start, they will likely grow fast and get big quickly,” she said.
While the confidence is high that the rest of the summer will be warmer and slightly drier, confidence is low that people will be responsible, and careful when camping and burning.
“The things I really worry about are human carelessness,” Hetts said.
So while it’s hard to say if more fires are on the way, we do know the region is prime for more big blazes on the horizon.
“All we’re really lacking now, as we continue to dry out, are the ignitions,” said Hetts. “It’s really hard to predict what the rest of the fire season will do, because the ignition component part of fires is so hard to predict.”
Hetts emphasized that the best way to prevent large and destructive fires is through prescribed burns, which eliminate the large and dead fuels scattered throughout the forest.
“The only way to have less fire is through more fires.” Hetts said.