Spring clean-up should prevent, not start wildfires


Published by Kristin Babbs


May 29, 2018

SALEM, Ore. – Many Oregonians have good intentions each spring when they set out to eliminate wildfire hazards around the home. But the tools they use may actually start a wildfire if not handled properly.


A sad example is the 2015 Stouts Creek Fire in southwest Oregon. Reportedly caused by a resident mowing dry grass, this fire eventually grew to more than 26,000 acres and cost $37 million dollars to put out.


Kristin Babbs, president of the non-profit fire prevention organization Keep Oregon Green, said, improper use of mowers, chain saws and other equipment is the leading cause of wildfires on state-protected lands in Oregon. “A spark from a hot exhaust system or a steel blade striking a rock can easily start a blaze in dry grass or brush,” she warned. “Keeping grass mowed low can reduce fire hazard, but mowing dry grass in the afternoon or on a hot day is very risky.”


Babbs joins the Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal and Oregon Department of Forestry in saying spring is the best time to prune, mow and clean up excess vegetation. “Do it while plants are still green, not during the summer when fuels are dry,” Babbs said.


To minimize fire risk during spring cleanup, Babbs recommends the following:


  • Follow current fire restrictions

Check with the local Oregon Department of Forestry district or forest protective association to learn if there are any current restrictions or regulations on the use of power tools with internal combustion engines, such as lawn mowers, chainsaws and weed trimmers. Some areas may restrict their use depending on weather and vegetation conditions.


  • Mow before 10 a.m.

The best time of day to use gas-powered equipment is early morning, when the humidity is higher and temperatures are lower. Never mow when it’s windy or excessively dry.


  • Use the right tool for the job

Lawn mowers are designed to mow lawns, not weeds or tall, dry grass. Use a weed trimmer with plastic line, vs. metal blades that can strike rocks, create sparks and start a wildfire. Remove rocks in the area before you begin operating any power equipment to avoid sparks.


  • Have an approved spark arrester on all portable gas-powered equipment

In wildland areas, an escaped carbon particle from a muffler may be all it takes to start a fire. This includes cars, tractors, harvesters, chainsaws, weed trimmers and mowers. Keep the exhaust system in proper working order, spark arresters clear of carbon build-up, and the engine free of oil and dust. Allow equipment to cool before refilling with gasoline. Use the recommended grade of fuel and don’t top it off.


Wildfire awareness, preparedness and prevention are crucial at any time of year. Learn how you can be a part of the solution at: www.keeporegongreen.org.

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