Local, state and federal fire officials are bracing for what could be an intense wildfire season in Columbia County and across the state of Oregon.
The predictions are for above average temperatures and below average precipitation, according to Oregon Department of Forestry Assistant Unit Forester Kelly Niles.
“Mother nature is in charge, so what’s going to happen is going to happened, but my main concern are the human-caused fires,” Niles said. “People doing something they shouldn’t be doing, not paying attention. Backyard debris burning when they shouldn’t be burning or partying in the woods.”
During the 2018 wildfire season, Oregonians were responsible for starting 1,330 wildfires that consumed over 329,000 acres. according to Kristin Babbs, president of the Keep Oregon Green Association.
As the area greens up and dries, and the humidity drops, temperatures rise, and winds pick up, Niles said the conditions for wildfires increase. A simply tossed cigarette, spark from a lawn mower or heat from an auto exhaust could trigger a wildfire.
The Oregon Department of Forestry is responsible for 350,000 acres in Columbia County and outlying areas. Currently, ODF crews have joined fire departments and fire districts across the state in wildfire training sessions preparing for the season ahead.
Babbs and Niles urge property owners to take action, now before the wildfire season intensifies.
“It’s incredibly important that all Oregonians work with their neighbors to plan and prepare for fire season now,” Babbs said. “Educating yourself about how fires can get started will be key in reducing accidental wildfire ignitions this summer.”
Niles said it is critical that people take time to check with their individual fire departments and districts before burning debris. Under Oregon law anyone responsible for causing a wildfire could face suppression and damage costs.
“I can bill everything to the person(s) responsible,” he said. “That’s why it is important to call first before you burn. We have gone after people for thousands of dollars. We are using Oregon taxpayers’ dollars to do our job.”
The governors of eleven western states have signed a proclamation recognizing May 2019 as Wildfire Awareness Month. The chief executives of Oregon, Washington, Nevada, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota encourage all citizens to “take steps to better prepare their home and communities for wildfires and work toward becoming a fire-adapted community."
These states, in partnership with federal, state and local fire prevention agencies and organizations, are working together to increase awareness of wildfires with programs, public service announcements, and opportunities for people to participate in community fire prevention projects.
To get an early start on Wildfire Awareness Month, Babbs encourages property owners to join their neighbors in reducing the community’s wildfire risk by taking part in National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on Saturday, May 4.
The National Fire Protection Association has teamed up with State Farm Insurance to encourage residents to commit a couple of hours, or the entire day, to raising wildfire awareness and working on projects that can protect homes and entire communities from the threat of fire.
For more information, contact the Oregon Department of Forestry at 503-397-2636, or your local fire department or fire district.