Despite rain, experts predict dry summer with significant fire risk

Mother Nature isn't fooling veteran firefighter Brian Ballou by dampening Jackson and Josephine counties with April showers.

"We've expected a hot, dry summer for some time now and it looks like it will finally be coming," said the spokesman of the Oregon Department of Forestry's Southwest Oregon District.

"The forecast is for a much drier summer than we have been in for the last few years," he added. "We will likely have an earlier fire season than we have had for awhile."

However, Ballou, who began fighting wildlands fires in 1972, is quick to observe that doesn't necessarily mean the 2013 fire season will bring large fires.

"Lightning is the primary cause of large fires," he said. "We'll have to wait and see how that plays out."

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, the nation's support center for wildland firefighting, predicts that significant fire potential will increase to above normal over the Northwest and Northern California in June and July.

Closer to home, the National Weather Service station at the Medford airport reported that the first three months of the year were the driest on record. The station reported a mere 1.82 inches of rain from Jan. 1 to the end of March. The record was 1.89 inches falling during those three months in 1992.

However, thanks to an abnormally wet fall, rainfall in the area since Sept. 1 is 15.63 inches, nearly an inch above the average of 14.79 inches for the period.

Fire season usually begins by early June but began June 20 last year and July 1 in 2011. However, it has also started as early as mid-April.

During fire season, debris burning is prohibited to burn barrels at the outset, then completely restricted as the fire danger increases.

The department's firefighters protect private, county, state and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands, covering everything from forests to brush and grasslands. ODF works closely with the U.S. Forest Service in determining the start of fire season.

— Paul Fattig

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