Our view: Fire season arrives in Eastern Oregon


Published by Kristin Babbs


Our view: Fire season arrives in Eastern Oregon

From the Pendleton East Oregonian June 28, 2016

Fire season officially kicked off Tuesday in Eastern Oregon.

It has already been a brutal start to the season elsewhere across the West: Two people were killed in California wildfires that have burned about 100,000 acres. Other dangerous and destructive fires have flared up in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Montana and Utah.

Although locally this was a more moisture-rich winter and spring than in recent years, Oregon will certainly not be spared the wrath of wildfires. On Monday, a grass fire quickly imperiled a number of Pendleton homes, and a month ago a fire at the old chemical depot burned up plenty of acres and caused numerous car accidents.

How bad is it going to be?

The National Interagency Fire Center has the entire state rated “normal” for wildfire potential clear through September. That’s an upgrade, actually. In recent years, most of the state was in the “above-normal” danger category from June through August.

We should be better off this year, with decent snowpack keeping things green and also keeping recreationalists out of the backcountry longer. But as those areas open up, it’s important to remember the additional responsibilities required when out in a parched world.

▪ Take heed of local fire restrictions. As the season progresses, they will be sure to get more restrictive, and with good reason. Bans went in place today for local wildlife refuges, including Cold Springs, McKay Creek, McNary and Umatilla. Those bans include fires of all sorts, even grills.

▪ Keep campfires and debris fires under control. Even when and where they are allowed, err on the side of caution. Scorching weather, brisk winds and dry grass can cause even the smallest of fires to quickly erupt. Use established fire rings and don’t leave a campfire unattended. Of course, when leaving make sure the fire is dead out.

▪ Bring the right tools. Water is a must, obviously. But bring a shovel or axe when rooting around with a motorized vehicle, and make sure your ATV is equipped with a spark arrestor. They are required on most public lands, and there is a cleanout requirement, too, so be sure to invest in regular maintenance.

▪ If you have to smoke, be smart when discarding your embers. Million-acre fires have been sparked by cigarette butts thrown in the most careless of places.

▪ There is nothing more American than fireworks on the Fourth of July, but it’s best to abstain when you live in the desert. Be smart if you shoot off your own, but you’re better off saving your money and letting a professional put on the show.

In general, the public won’t be able to stop every fire. Hot weather and lightning and unhealthy forests mean there are bound to be plenty of blazes out of our control. But if we can be protectors instead of contributors, Eastern Oregon will be a more comfortable place this summer — not choked out by smoke and not costing our government millions of dollars to fight man-made fires.

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