Southern Oregon fire season isn't over yet

·3 min read

Sep. 21—It'll take more than a weekend of rain to end fire season in Southern Oregon.

On Oregon Department of Forestry-protected lands in Jackson and Josephine counties, rain last weekend dropped the fire danger level down two notches from "extreme" to "moderate."

On Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest lands, however, the average inch and a half of rainfall over the weekend only tipped the scales for Forest Service officials to reduce the fire danger down one level to "high" effective Tuesday morning, according to U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Virginia Gibbons.

"We're taking a more conservative approach," Gibbons said. "That rain was of course more than welcome, but we do have a very long-term drought overshadowing that."

Gibbons said the rain "definitely helped," but it was not a "season-ending event."

"In Southern Oregon we have to be really careful because we're so quick to dry out," Gibbons said. "We have to look at that longer picture."

Compounding Forest Service concerns are more warm, dry temperatures in the forecast. Temperatures are expected to reach the 90s by Friday.

"We could have another extended period of warm and dry," Gibbons said.

Caution has paid off this fire season. Gibbons said that the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has seen only 53 acres damaged in 54 wildfires so far this fire season. Because of that, the forest is in better shape to absorb moisture compared to lands affected by recent wildfires.

"We've done really well," Gibbons said. "All that smoke is coming from different large fires."

Gibbons said she expects this year's fire season to last well into November, drawing from her recollection of the 2020 Slater fire, which started near Happy Camp, California, and burned 157,229 acres, including portions of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

The fire wasn't considered 100% contained until Dec. 10, according to Inciweb.

"All predictions were for this fire season to be a lengthy one," Gibbons said.

Because of the restrictions and fire danger level, the Forest Service asks those visiting to park only in areas free of dry vegetation, to check that any chains on trailers are properly secured to avoid generating sparks, and to burn campfires only in concrete or metal fire rings at designated campgrounds.

Within the boundaries of the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue River — between Grave Creek and Watson Creek — campfires are not allowed, according to the Forest Service. Propane stoves or stoves with charcoal briquettes are allowed only within a raised fire pan below the high-water mark.

The Bureau of Land Management Medford District is sticking to similar fire restrictions, according to a news release issued Monday.

"It's been a long fire season, but we aren't out of the woods yet," said BLM fire management officer Natalie Simrell.

Current BLM restrictions include no campfires or other forms of open fires such as charcoal briquettes on lands managed by the agency, no smoking unless inside a vehicle or while stopped in an area at least three feet away from flammable vegetation, operating a vehicle off-road only on paths and roadways clear of flammable vegetation, no fireworks, exploding targets or tracer ammunition, no torches with open flames.

BLM prohibits use of chainsaws and other gas-engine power equipment between 1 and 8 p.m., and at least one hour of fire watch is required after using a chainsaw.

Visitors on BLM lands are required to carry tools to put out small fires, including a shovel, an ax, at least one gallon of water or a 2.5-pound fire extinguisher. Any violations can result in penalties that include up to a year in prison and fines of up to $1,000.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

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