Banks Fire District Water Tender 14 responds to a field fire in Gales Creek on Tuesday, August 18, 2020. Photo: Chas Hundley

Washington County's burn ban, first announced on April 14, will lift at 8 a.m. Friday, April 23, according to Dave Nemeyer, a spokesperson for Forest Grove Fire & Rescue.

The original decision to halt burning on April 14 came after the Washington County Fire Defense Board, made up of all local Washington County fire agencies, met and determined that it would be unsafe to allow outdoor debris burning.

The Portland office of the National Weather Service also issued a red flag warning last Friday and a special weather statement earlier than that, both warning of high fire danger caused by the high temperatures, windy conditions, and low relative humidity in NW Oregon.

To see if burning is allowed, fire officials recommend those looking to conduct a debris or other type of burn call their local fire agency — Banks Fire District can be reached at 503-324-6262 option 5, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue at 503-259-1789, Forest Grove Fire & Rescue at 503-992-3240 — before setting yard debris ablaze.

Earlier in the week, Nemeyer noted that crews from Forest Grove Fire & Rescue were already prepared for wildfires.

"We've been wildfire ready for a couple weeks," Nemeyer said, noting that staff from Forest Grove Fire & Rescue — which serves Gales Creek and other rural communities through an agreement with the Forest Grove Rural Fire Protection District — have been getting their gear and organizing it.

Beyond that, Nemeyer said that the concept of a "fire season" is changing for his agency, for more than one reason. Crews must be ready "365" days a year, he said.

Forest Grove and other fire agencies have headed south numerous times to fight California wildfires, oftentimes in the winter, under the Oregon Fire Mutual Aid System. That favor was most recently repaid by Californian crews during Oregon's September 2020 wildfires.

Locally, though, Nemeyer says that the fires locally are human-caused.

"We cannot blame any of this on lightning. So it's up to the folks to be smart. [Outdoor] burning is our number one cause of wildfire," he said.

If conditions are safe to burn, the Oregon Department of Forestry said, these steps should be followed. 

-- 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 (preferably in late fall or winter).

-- 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.

Forest Grove Fire & Rescue’s Nemeyer also advised similar steps, and noted that those choosing to burn should soak their burn piles down when done, and revisit them a week later and soak them again to ensure that any underground roots are out as well. Nemeyer also stressed the importance of defensible space around one’s home.