SALEM, Ore. - Fire danger is at critical levels across the state of Oregon. Earlier this month, fire weather forecasters witnessed an anomaly that literally raised a red flag.
Practically the entire state had been painted red on meteorological charts indicating a Red Flag Warning from Florence to Ontario, Astoria to Brookings and nearly everywhere in-between.
"It's already been a tough fire season," says Oregon Department of Forestry's (ODF) Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields. "Firefighting resources have been stretched thin throughout the region and we have a long way to go. The last thing we need right now is a rash of preventable human-caused fires."
Wildland fire professionals work hard to raise awareness as outdoor enthusiasts head to the forests to enjoy what nature has to offer.
With hunting season looming (deer and elk archery seasons kick off Saturday, Fields says the message remains clear: "Be part of the solution, not the problem."
"Careless campfires can destroy habitat, which in turn affects the wildlife and future hunting opportunities," added Kristin Babbs, executive director of the Keep Oregon Green Association. "What we do now can affect our enjoyment of the great outdoors in years to come."
Wildfires can be beneficial for wildlife habitat when they create early seral habitat (young forbs and trees) or create a mosaic of habitat types that provides food and cover for wildlife.
But often wildfires are followed by an invasion of noxious weeds like cheatgrass, which worsen habitat conditions. When wildfires are followed by a tough winter, game animals may have difficulty finding enough food to survive the winter season.
Follow fire restrictions
As hunters prepare for the 2014 season, the Oregon Department of Forestry, ODFW and its partners ask that hunters take extra caution to keep fires from occurring. Know about restrictions before you go afield and follow them. Below are some of the most common:
- Campfires are either prohibited or only allowed in approved campgrounds in many areas.
- Smoking and off road driving is also prohibited, which includes motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.
- Vehicles must have either a gallon of water or a fully charged and operational 2½-pound fire extinguisher, plus one ax and one shovel (except when travelling on state highways or county roads).
- ATVs must have a charged and operational 2½ pound fire extinguisher.
The use of tracer ammunition and exploding targets is also illegal during fire season under legislation passed last year (HB 3199). Be fire smart and use other methods to sight in your rifles. Place targets in areas away from dry vegetation and hard surfaces like rocky hillsides that could spark a fire.
Know before you go
Before heading out, check with land management agencies in the area you plan hunt for restrictions or closures.
Private timberland: For a list of corporate closures, visit ODF's web site at Oregon.gov/odf under Wildfires /Forest Restrictions & Closures / Landowner / Corporate Closure Chart. This chart is updated frequently and also contains a phone number to get the latest information about restrictions directly from the timber company.
According to Mark Wall, forestry manager with Roseburg Resources Co, restrictions can change quickly.
"During fire season, it's a week to week decision for Roseburg to determine what kind of public recreational access is appropriate for its timberlands. We continually monitor the weather forecast and current fire danger indices to guide our decision making," he said.
"Timber companies have made significant investments in their lands and it is essential that we do all what we can to protect our working forests from the threat of human caused wildfires."
Wall urges anyone looking to hunt on private timberlands to first check with the landowner for the latest closure information and any landowner specific restrictions that might be in effect if access is allowed. (Find out about restrictions on Roseburg properties by calling 541-784-2895.)
ODFW's Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife Area (Murderers Creek Unit, Grant County) remains closed to all access as of Tuesday due to the South Fork Complex Fire.
"Once the fire is contained, ODFW will work directly with local fire officials to reopen portions of the wildlife area as fire fighter and public safety permits," says Wildlife Area Manager Dan Marvin.
2014 fire season
Nearly 800,000 acres have burned in 2014 on lands protected by ODF, the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Rangeland Protective Associations. The 2014 fire season has already reached record proportions and the summer is far from over.
Much of the damage has come in the form of lightning-packed thunderstorms, something firefighters can prepare for, but can't prevent. Human-caused fires, on the other hand, are something all Oregonians can do something about.
The 6,900-acre Two Bulls Fire and the 2,535-acre Moccasin Hill Fire are two large fires this season that were started by people. The Moccasin Hill Fire also destroyed 35 structures.