Alarm Box: Steps you can take to reduce fire season risk

The 1987 fire season provided my first education about fire. For those of you who were living here then, you will remember that there was a late season dry lightning event, on Aug. 30 to be exact, that ignited hundreds of fires in southern Oregon, burned thousands of acres, and created smoky skies that caused the cancellation of daily double football practice. The 1987 fire season started out as the third year of below normal precipitation, and the word “drought” was used regularly. It remains the latest-ending fire season on record with a mid-November end, and the second longest overall.

There is no fire season on which to compare this year’s conditions, given the anomaly of normal precipitation and minimal snow pack. But we do know that, as we get to the later part of summer, our fire danger is anticipated to be high and extreme as normal, and the drought conditions will not help.

As I consider the current conditions and recount 1987, I think of the age-old question I’m asked this time of year by citizens and media alike: Will this be a bad fire season? In my earlier years, I thought it was great to try to predict it; however, a few years ago, I decided that my tongue-in-cheek response is really more accurate: Ask me in October.

While we have no control on the weather impacts, there are several things that you can do to help reduce potential catastrophes of this fire season. The majority of fires in southern Oregon are caused by humans, not lighting. So here’s my summer wish/tip list for us all:

· Cutting your weeds and grass may seem like a pain, but when it dries out it will create an intense fire if not maintained. Believe it or not, making sure the weeds and grass are cut will help to minimize the damage a fire causes. Short grass does not burn as aggressively or rapidly and gives firefighters a chance to stop the fire from spreading.

· There is still time to reduce the fuels around your home. Implement a Firewise landscape around your home and invite your neighbors to participate as well (go to www.ashlandfirewise.org for more information).

· Keep barbecues away from combustibles like weeds, houses and wood decks.

· Place used charcoal briquettes in a metal bucket and put water on them. Do NOT put them in a paper bag next to the house.

· Free standing, wood burning, outdoor fire pits are permitted in Ashland ONLY if they have a solid, non-removable top with side openings to load the wood. Chiminea style fire pits are permitted if they have a spark arrestor on the chimney. These requirements are in effect throughout the year; however, none are permitted to be used once we reach high fire danger. 

· As fire season heats up (literally), time restrictions will be implemented on the use of power equipment that can start fires, including mowing dry grass, chainsaws, welding and cutting metal. Know and follow the restrictions. They are based on times when a fire is more likely to start given the temperature and humidity. 

Do your part, and remind your neighbors to do their share to keep our community free of fires this summer. Find out more about all of these things on our website at www.ashland.or.us/fire.

Margueritte Hickman is a division chief/fire marshal with Ashland Fire & Rescue. Email her at margueritte.hickman@ashland.or.us. The Alarm Box, a column with local public safety information written by Ashland Fire & Rescue personnel, appears triweekly in the Tidings.

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