The Oregon Department of Forestry’s (ODF) Central Oregon District announced today that the 2014 wildfire season on state-protected lands will end Tuesday morning, Oct. 21. All fire season-related rules will be lifted on the district, which encompasses 2.2 million acres of private and public forest and rangeland in 10 counties.
This year to date, 16,582 acres have burned in the district – nearly double the 10-year average of 8,681 acres.
“2014 was a very challenging fire season,” said District Forester George Ponte.
The Two Bulls Fire set the stage for high fire activity, breaking out west of Bend on June 7. Wind spread the fire rapidly, prompting residential evacuations.
A month later the White River Fire ignited in The Dalles Unit. Parched forest fuels and rugged terrain challenged firefighters battling the blaze.
Wave after wave of thunderstorms swept across Washington and Oregon during the hot, dry summer, starting so many fires that the Pacific Northwest Region emerged as hotspot of the nation. To the district’s firefighters, it seemed like central Oregon lay at the epicenter.
In late July, dry lightning raked the district, igniting several fires in the John Day Unit that were eventually dubbed the Haystack Complex. An ODF fire team took command of the suppression operation and by early August was able to turn management of the complex back over to local forces.
Standard operating procedure would have called for the team to be promptly demobilized and its members sent back to their duty stations around the state. But in view of the extreme fire conditions, fire staff at ODF headquarters in Salem decided to hold the team in the district. Their decision proved to be pivotal.
On Aug. 5, the Rowena Fire broke out west of The Dalles. The fast-moving fire soon forced numerous evacuations. The next day, the team redeployed to the new incident. While a State Fire Marshal’s team positioned structural fire engines on residential streets, ODF firefighters battled to keep the flame front away from threatened neighborhoods. Just one home was lost. Had ODF’s fire team not already been in-district and able to take command in only a few hours, the outcome could have been very different.
Though fire season will end Tuesday, burn permits are still required for any slash disposal or forest health burning. They are available by contacting ODF. Homeowners wishing to do backyard burning should check with their local fire department prior to burning.
The official closure of the season doesn’t eliminate the need for vigilance. Ponte urged people to continue to be careful with fire when working or recreating in the forest, and especially when doing backyard burning.
“Escaped debris burns are the leading cause of wildfires outside of fire season. People should not burn on windy days and never, ever leave a burn unattended,” he said. “In central Oregon we can have wildfires anytime during the year so for this part of the state, fire season never really ends.”
George Ponte, 541-447-5658, firstname.lastname@example.org