Fire danger still an issue

EUGENE — Summer is winding down in Western Oregon, but fire danger is not.

The National Weather Service has had danger warnings out for the Willamette Valley this week because of warm temperatures and strong breezes, conditions expected to return after a brief respite Saturday.

Temperatures could be in the low to mid 90s Sunday and Monday, and while winds are expected to diminish, fire officials are urging people to use caution outdoors.

Restrictions on campfires and off-road vehicle use remain in effect in many areas, and wildland firefighters are preparing for extreme conditions.

"We're making sure we're fully staffed up because people do tend to let their guard down this time of year," said Link Smith of the state Forestry Departments Western Lane District.

"But fires burn just fine in low humidities, warmer temperatures and wind, especially in the Coast Range, which often hits the peak fire season late in the year.

A late August fire in 2002 burned 840 acres near Walton and cost almost $2 million to extinguish, and a late September fire in 1999 along the Siuslaw River burned more than 1,000 acres.

"We've had some historic fires at this time of year that were pretty bad," said State Forestry Department spokesman Rod Nichols. "We don't want to see any repeats of that. "What's bad about the current conditions is the combination of warmer weather and a strong wind from the east."

Smith said that has produced large Coast Range fires in the past.

Temperatures have been in the upper 80s most of this week. After dropping back to the low 80s, they're forecast to climb into the low 90s and possibly higher Sunday and Monday, said meteorologist Scott Weishaar of the National Weather Service in Portland.

The record highs for Sept. 13 and 14 are 95 and 96 degrees, respectively. "We'll be getting close to record temperatures Sunday and Monday," Weishaar said. "We're certainly going to be in very elevated fire danger."

Normal rainfall for September is more than half an inch by now but so far Eugene hasn't seen a drop. Augusts total of 1.1 inches actually was a bit more than the 0.99 average, but more than half of that fell on Aug. 24 and came after a July that saw almost no rain.

"We haven't had significant rainfall for a long time, and the so-called season-ending events we're looking for eventually certainly haven't arrived," said Nichols.

"Everything is still very dry. So we're certainly asking people to be mindful of what they do out in the woods right now."

Campers, hunters and outdoor recreationists should contact national forests for current fire restrictions.

State-protected land remains under a regulated use closure, which limits campfires to developed campgrounds and limits all vehicles to developed roads.

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