Fire, ODF, Oregon

Oregon Department of Forestry warns of fire danger over Memorial Day weekend

A burn pile that escaped control on NW Strohmeyer Rd on Tuesday, April 13. Photo: Forest Grove Fire & Rescue

The Oregon Department of Forestry is warning of increased fire danger over Memorial Day weekend.

“It’s time for everyone to put their Smokey hat on,” said Oregon Department of Forestry’s Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields in a press release. “The continued drought and unseasonably warm weather we’re facing could lead to unintentional wildfires.”

According to AAA, an estimated 485,000 Oregonians plan to travel over the weekend, a large increase over 2020’s numbers. 

Temperatures are expected to soar into the upper 80’s over the holiday weekend, according to the Portland office of the National Weather Service. 

According to Fields, firefighters with ODF have fought 267 fires this year, which combined have burned more than 1,900 acres. 

That’s more than twice the 10-year average for the number of fires usually experienced by this time of the year. 

Fire crews on patrol have also extinguished about a dozen campfires left to burn unattended. 

“The last thing anyone wants is to have their holiday weekend ruined by not putting out their campfire,” Fields said.

The department provided the following tips to ensure campfires don’t spread:

— Know before you go: Before going camping, always contact the forest district, agency or landowner first to learn if there are any current campfire restrictions where you plan to recreate.

— Have water and fire tools on site: Bring a shovel and a bucket of water to extinguish any escaped embers. When you are ready to leave, drown all embers with water, stir the coals, and drown again. Repeat these steps until the fire is DEAD out. If it is too hot to touch, it is too hot to leave.

— Select the right spot: Where campfires are allowed, choose a site with an existing ring. Fire pits in established campgrounds are the best spots. If you choose to build a campfire, avoid building it near your tent, structures, vehicles, shrubs or trees, and be aware of low-hanging branches overhead. Clear the site down to bare soil, at least five feet on all sides, and circle it with rocks. Store unused firewood a good distance from the fire.

— Keep your campfire small: A campfire is less likely to escape control if it is kept small. A large fire may cast hot embers long distances. Add firewood in small amounts as existing material is consumed.

— Attend your campfire at all times: A campfire left unattended for even a few minutes can grow into a costly, damaging wildfire. Stay with your campfire from start to finish until it is dead out, as required by law. That ensures any escaped sparks or embers can be extinguished quickly.

— Consider alternatives to a campfire this summer: Portable camp stoves are a safer option to campfires at any time of year. Areas that prohibit campfires outside maintained campgrounds with established fire pits often allow camp stoves.

— Never use gasoline or other accelerants: Don’t use flammable or combustible liquids, such as gasoline, propane or lighter fluid, to start or increase your campfire.

— Burn ONLY local wood: Hauling your firewood to a remote campground can potentially transport invasive species. Instead, buy it where you’ll burn it or gather wood on site where permitted. State regulations prohibit the open burning of any other material that creates dense, toxic smoke or noxious odors. 

Chas Hundley is the editor of the Banks Post and sister news publications the Gales Creek Journal and the Salmonberry Magazine. He grew up in Gales Creek and has a cat.

Sign up for Banks area news in your inbox ↓

The groceries your family needs!