Even though it’s now September, forestry officials want you to know that fire season hasn’t ended yet.
With a heat wave expected to extend for several weeks, coupled with extra-dry late-summer vegetation, preventing wildfires remains as important as ever.
“As we enter hunting season, we ask everyone to do their part and make sure they are being extremely vigilant while enjoying the outdoors,” said Jacob Barnett, wildland protection supervisor for the Oregon Department of Forestry. “Forestry fuels are extremely volatile right now and we could see a large fire develop very rapidly if we all don’t do our part.”
For most of Oregon (including the coast), the National Weather Service expects a severe drought and “much above normal temperatures” through Labor Day Weekend and excessive heat the following week. The heat wave comes from an area of high pressure concentrating over the northeastern Pacific Ocean.
An ODF news release said the probability of lightning-caused fires due to thunderstorms is lower than it was in August, so it’s more likely that any fires occurring this month will be human-caused.
“Wildfire managers are concerned about this forecast,” the release said. “A smoldering campfire or an errant spark from a vehicle can become a raging blaze in minutes. And this at a time when firefighting resources are already strained in Oregon and nationally.”
Jennifer Case, public information officer for the ODF Klamath Unit, said those wishing to enjoy the outdoors this weekend and during hunting season must abide by burn restrictions and be especially careful to properly douse fires that are permitted. She said that even though nighttime temperatures are cooling off and nighttime humidity is starting to increase, the heat wave is keeping daytime temperatures high this year.
“People see cooler temperatures in the evening, so they think it’s OK to have campfires, which it’s not,” she said. “It’s still very much extreme fire conditions out there.”
Case said the fire danger level will likely remain “extreme” through the end of the month. The Energy Release Component, a measurement of how much potential energy is available to be released if a fire catches, was in the 97th percentile on Wednesday — higher than its 2002-2018 September average, and among the highest it’s been so far in 2020.
If heading outdoors this Labor Day Weekend, abide by all burn restrictions by not building campfires, setting off fireworks, smoking outside a vehicle, using off-road vehicles like ATVs or using chainsaws. Case added that even pulling a car to the side of the road where there’s tall grass can heat up these dry fuels and spark a fire.
“Whether this September hot spell spawns new wildfires depends almost entirely on how Oregonians behave in the forest,” the ODF release said.