ALERT: A ban on any form of outdoor burning is now in effect as of 12:01 AM Monday, 4/20/20 within the Colestin Rural Fire District.
Until 4/20/20, a regional burn ban was voluntary; for some districts, it may remain voluntary for now, based on local conditions, resources, and call volume. Other districts, including ours, are already very dry and functioning with a bare-bones crew; increasing temperatures will only increase our challenges.
Escaped burns are notorious in a season such as we are facing; an open burning ban ahead of the official start of fire season is an effective mitigating tool under these circumstances. A burn ban will help limit the number and scale of potential incidents we must respond to, as well as protecting anyone who may be fighting COVID-19 from additional respiratory issues.
Thank you for observing this regulation during the next several months, and for helping all those living here in our district to be as safe as possible.
ALERT: FIRE SEASON COULD START IN EARLY MAY DUE TO ALREADY VERY DRY CONDITIONS
While fire authorities across southern Oregon have been anticipating an earlier start to fire season, the Oregon Dept. of Forestry tipped its hand to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, reported by the Mail Tribune* on Tues. 4/21/20, the same day that the Commissioners declared a local state of drought. They will next request Gov. Kate Brown to declare a "state drought emergency" for all of Jackson County.
In the article, County Administrator Danny Jordan states that "The area has received only about 65% of its average precipitation and 75% of its average snowpack for the water year, which starts in October..." Additionally, "the extended weather forecast for Jackson County projects higher than normal temperatures and below average precipitation."
Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts is also quoted, saying that "county officials learned from the Oregon Department of Forestry that the fire danger has already hit levels not normally seen until summer... 'We're in mid-June conditions,' she said. ODF could declare the start of the fire season as early as May 1, she said."
The article also points out what we wish we didn't already know so well: "Droughts lead to lower moisture levels in flammable vegetation like grass, bushes and trees, the early onset of fire danger and longer, more intense wildfire seasons."
Practicing fire safety, pro-actively creating or renewing defensible space, and maintaining vigilance, all with an eye to preventing fires before they can begin, will be extremely important this fire season.
These last few days before fire season is officially declared is time to take stock and prioritize anything you can do (without open burning) to minimize your exposure and vulnerability to wildfire, and to make plans for how you will respond to a wildfire event if it happens. Preparation now is everything.
*The article is available on the Mail Tribune's website as "Drought Declaration: A disaster on top of a disaster," by Vickie Aldous; however, it was not in the print version of the paper on Tuesday.
Outdoor natural debris burning is subject to state and local fire safety regulations.
All open (outdoor) burning is prohibited during fire season. This includes but is not limited to the burning of natural debris, woody or vegetative organic materials or forest slash (private logging operations), and applies to the use of all types of burn barrels as well as to all open burning.
Typically, there are no restrictions within our district on open and barrel burning during the "off-season," i.e., during the wet season in the fall once fire season has ended, during the winter, or in the spring before fire season officially begins again.
A caveat must be added here: Due to the changing climate, the southern Oregon (and northern California) region has been seeing longer "dry" seasons and hence, longer fire seasons; in recent years, high or extreme fire danger conditions have existed before and after the official start or end of fire season. Our region is experiencing an increasing number of fires started by escaped controlled burns, even at times during the wet season when the prospect of a burn escaping control seems very unlikely.
Because of this and the need to respond to actual local fire danger conditions, open burning restrictions for our district can begin earlier than fire season officially begins, and can extend beyond the official end of fire season in the fall.
Watch our fire danger indicator sign areas in the district for posted open burning regulations, as well as for the start of fire season. (Postcard notices are not normally sent out about either of these changes). Open burning is always prohibited once fire season begins, if it is not prohibited before then.
Permits & Air Quality Regulations:
The Colestin Rural Fire District does not normally require a permit for burning. Check with us first, though: Because of dry conditions and escaped slash burns during the past several springs, we have been requiring a burn permit prior to fire season once it gets dry and warm.
Watch our fire danger indicator sign areas in the district for "Permit Required" notices when fire season is not in effect but the weather is warm and dry.
When permits are not being required in our district, we also ask that you notify CRFD Fire Chief Steve Avgeris before you conduct a burn, in order to avoid false alarm calls.
Please note that careless burning is the cause of many wildfires and nuisance (and serious) smoke problems.
The ODF states that both Jackson and Josephine counties have telephone numbers to call to find out whether air quality conditions allow for burning; the number to call in Jackson County is: (541) 776-7007.
BEFORE conducting an open burn:
Consider no-burn options. Woody debris can be disposed of at Biomass One in White City and Murphy and at the transfer station in White City for no charge. Or choose alternatives such as chipping, mulching, or composting.
Burn piles should be at least 50 feet from structures and 500 feet from any forest slash.
Clear the area around the burn pile of any flammable material.
Connect a water hose or have at least 5 gallons of water, and a shovel at your burn site. Having additional hand tools on site that can be used for managing and controlling your burn is always a good idea.
Please contact us before you burn. Even in wet conditions, we would still appreciate a call, so we don't waste resources on a false alarm if someone else reports your burn as a fire.
When conducting an open burn:
Burn when the winds are calm or light. If trees sway, flags are extended, or waves appear on open water, it is too windy.
Start early in the day, when temperatures are coolest.
Burn only natural vegetation.
Burn only one pile at a time. Preferably hand-feed it to control size and minimize escape.
Maintain a connected water hose or at least 5 gallons of water and a shovel on site, as well as any other needed tools.
The Oregon Dept. of Forestry summarizes the key points for safely conducting open burning:
"Debris burn piles should have at least a 10-foot radius clear of other vegetation with nothing above it, such as branches or power lines. During the debris burn, never leave your pile unattended. A water source, such as a large bucket of water or a charged garden hose should be nearby, along with a shovel. The pile should be kept small; if at any time it begins to grow, it should be extinguished immediately. When finished, ensure the pile is completely out, and check it throughout the next week for any heat in the area." [ODF 10/25/19 news release]
NEVER LEAVE WHILE CONDUCTING A BURN: Attend the fire until it is completely extinguished.
Remember that most escaped burns are not the result of ignorance, lack of procedural know-how, or intelligence, but mere carelessness.
Regardless of the reason, if your burn gets out of control, call 9-1-1 immediately. (We get called, along with any needed outside agency back-up.)
For further information, see Keep Oregon Green's website section on Backyard Burning. The same principles given for burn barrels apply to open burning of slash or natural debris piles.
For more industrial-scale slash burning, see Forestland Slash Burning.
If you have any questions or concerns about burning, regulations or permits, please contact us.