A recent wildfire in the Tillamook Forest. photo: ODF

OREGON - May 1 kicks off Wildfire Awareness Month, a public safety marketing campaign held by the nonprofit organization Keep Oregon Green and local, state, and federal fire agencies and other organizations, according to a press release from the Oregon Department of Forestry. 

It’s a timely announcement, with Southern Oregon officially entering fire season on May 1, according to the Medford Mail Tribune

Locally, wildfire has already burned six acres on private forestland in the Tillamook Forest, with one fire weather watch already issued for the Willamette Valley, and Oregon Department of Forestry officials from the Forest Grove District offices urging caution in outdoor burning. 

The Oregon Department of Forestry noted that in 2019 — a fairly mild fire season in Oregon compared to 2017 and 2018 — 1,192 fires in the ODF coverage territory that burned around 22,000 acres were started by humans.

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The cost to that agency alone in firefighting costs in 2019 was $32.8 million, which doesn’t include local agency costs, the cost to private landowners, and other costs associated with wildfires. 

Many of those fires, according to ODF, stemmed from escaped burn piles and campfires that were left unattended. 

The agency asked that those who intend to burn or use equipment that could ignite dry vegetation contact their local fire agency or the manager of the land you are on to check current fire restrictions. 

One way to quickly check if burning is allowed for those in the Willamette Valley is to visit smkmgt.com/burn.php.

For those in the Banks Fire District 13 area, (Timber, Banks, Buxton, Manning, Hayward), visit www.banksfire.org/burning or call (503) 324-6262, option 5 for current restrictions and recommendations on burning.

For those in Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue's service area, which includes much of Roy, visit https://www.tvfr.com/132/Outdoor-Burning or call 503-259-1789 for burn information.

This year, famed Oregon actor Sam Elliot has lent his voice to a series of public service announcements from Keep Oregon Green, urging Oregonians to practice fire safety when using the outdoors. 

Elliot, according to the ODF, nearly lost one of his homes in California in that state’s devastating 2018 wildfire season.  

Visit keeporegongreen.org to view the campaign, artwork, and more information. 

In addition to the entire month of May being Wildfire Awareness Month, the National Fire Protection Association’s Community Wildfire Preparedness Day is Saturday, May 2.

That’s a rather wordy title, but essentially, it’s another chance for wildfire officials to urge residents throughout the state to take precautionary measures, especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Covid-19 has changed community dynamics and created more time at home for many Oregon residents, time that can be used to clear brush from around homes and other preparedness activities,” said National Fire Plan Coordinator Jenna Trentadue with the Oregon Department of Forestry.  “Even with physical distancing requirements in place, we can all still do our part on May 2 to be more prepared for wildfire.”

Other agency experts chimed in to add their expertise in another press release from the Oregon Department of Forestry. 

“Cleaning up around the home is an excellent way to start thinking about fire prevention this summer,” says ODF’s Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields. “Whether it’s disposing of the yard waste created through cleanup, planning your summer camping trip, or using outdoor power equipment, be sure and exercise caution with fire or spark emitting activities.”

Kristin Babbs, Keep Oregon Greem President and CEO, said that “Our main concern this summer is people. They are responsible for over 70% of Oregon’s wildfires. The good news is, with good defensible space, fire does not have to consume everything in its path. If a fire accidently starts on your property, it will be unlikely to spread to neighboring houses if there’s no fuel to carry the flame. The more defensible space a homeowner creates before fire season, the better a home’s chances of surviving a wildfire in the heat of summer.”

Claire McGrew, Assistant Chief Deputy at the Office of State Fire Marshal added that, “Wildfire safety starts with you. During a time when we are experiencing social distancing, this presents a good opportunity to prepare our homes, families and communities for wildfires by starting on our own property. “

A few suggested projects to prepare for the impending and inevitable fire season are below, as written by the Oregon Department of Forestry:

• Remove debris and dry leaves 3 to 5 feet from of a home’s foundation, and up to 30 ft. if possible.

• Keep your roof and gutters free of downed tree limbs, broken branches and leaves.

• Distribute wildfire safety information via email or website, or order free Firewise and emergency preparedness materials from the Firewise catalog or from www.ready.gov/plan.

• Join forces with neighbors and pool your resources to pay for a chipper service or large debris bin to remove slash.

• Make a map of the community and indicate where elderly and people with animals are located, who may need more help during an emergency, and assign community members to assist them.