Expert predicts hot fire season in Valley

Brian Ballou, Fire Prevention Specialist with the Oregon Department of Forestry thinks this could be the year. Because the Rogue Valley hasn't seen a significant forest fire in the last couple of years, he thinks the law of averages might play out this fire season.

"I think it's going to be a much more active year than we've seen in a while," he said. "I just get the sense this could be the year. Long-timers call it the 10-year cycle or the 10-year curse. '77 was a bad year; '87 was a bad year; '97 was pretty strong"

A wet winter, which causes vegetation to grow more in the springtime, combined with winter storms that knocked down many trees and limbs, are also factors in his prediction.

"The way winter ran," he said, "you just get a feeling."

Fire season typically starts in mid-June and ends in November, according to an ODF Web site.

He also said several seasons in a row without large lightning strikes in the Ashland Watershed mean the forest above Ashland is due.

"We've been pretty darn lucky that past couple of years," he said. "It's inevitable our luck could run out."

The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, which makes predictions about forest fire season for the Pacific Northwest, has guessed that fire season will be "average" for this part of the country.

"Seasonal climate forecasts for the western states indicate potentially warmer and drier than average conditions beginning in July and lasting into September," the NICC's Web site says. "The potential for a large active fire season depends upon the severity of drying during the peak months of July and August combined with the frequency of lightning outbreaks. Surges of monsoon moisture from the desert southwest are likely to be weaker than during 2006. This would tend to provide fewer lightning outbreaks for the Pacific Northwest and thus a lower potential for mass ignitions and campaign wildfire outbreaks."

The last significant forest fire in the Ashland area was the 2002 Antelope Fire, which burned the ridge line on Grizzly Peak. The last large forest fire to burn in Southwestern Oregon was the Deer Creek Fire of 2005. The 1,500 acre burned seven homes near Selma.

"In small ways you can't help but wonder if not having a big one recently might have put some complacency into the people who live in these areas," he said, assuring that, "There isn't any complacency on the part of firefighters."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x. 226 or .

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