Southern Oregon is bracing for a fire season that could start earlier, last longer and burn hotter than usual in a part of the world known for major summer fires.
The snowpack in the mountains is at a record low in the southern part of the Cascade Range and the Siskiyou Mountains in Oregon, and the region is already in the second year of drought. Statewide, the average snowpack is 76 percent below normal levels.
The deficiency of moisture in the middle elevations of the mountains and the buildup of primed fuels, ranging from downed and dead trees to brush that was killed during intense freezes this winter, means the sun will cook hillsides into tinderboxes just waiting for a lighting strike. Last year there were 130,000 strikes.
Firefighter training is scheduled to begin earlier than usual this year with new tactics and attack plans being set for larger safety zones. Fire managers and all state and federal agencies will need to step up their game in coordinating resources, logistics support, aviation support and predictive services. Cooperating agencies include the: Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, Oregon Dept of Forestry, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Washington Dept. of Natural Resources and the National Park Service.