A September 13, 2017 wildfire burns near Balm Grove in Gales Creek. Photo: Chas Hundley

OREGON - Spring officially began on Thursday, March 19, and Oregon Department of Forestry officials are already warning of increased wildfire risk as warm, drier weather moves in.

“The first week of spring has emergency responders concerned,” read a statement from the agency, which manages Oregon’s state-owned forest, and doubles as a fire response agency in hundreds of wildfires every year.

According to ODF, there have already been 18 fires that have escaped control on private, county, state, and federal lands protected by the agency. 

Last year, the Santiam Park Fire burned nearly 200 acres between March 19 and 20, causing at least $332,000 in damage, forced home evacuations, and shuttered the North Santiam State Recreation Area for much of the season, according to the Statesman-Journal

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“As we all practice social distancing and spend more time at home, it is an excellent time to clean up around the property to abate any fire risk for this summer,” said ODF Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields. “But it’s best to just hold off burning any yard debris until calmer conditions return.”

Though rain is in the forecast for next week, emergency responders are asking the public to avoid using fire in any form this week until favorable conditions return. 

If burning is your choice of debris disposal, wait until milder conditions return and follow these guidelines from the Oregon Department of Forestry:

-- Place yard debris in an open area away from structures, trees and power lines.

-- Create small piles (4’ x 4’) to better manage the burn.

-- Cover portions of piles with polyethylene plastic (landscape material) to keep a portion dry for lighting later.

-- When conditions improve, check with your local fire agency for any regulations in place.

-- Never burn under windy conditions.

-- To maintain containment, create a perimeter around the pile at a minimum of 3 feet, scraped clear to bare mineral soil.

-- Keep a shovel and charged hose nearby to manage the burn.

-- Make sure the pile is dead out before leaving.

-- Return periodically over several weeks to make sure the pile is still out: No heat, no smoke.

-- While the official start of fire season may still be a couple of months away, now is not the time to add more strain to the system, further taxing the capacity of first responders.