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Fire Watch: Caution honors fallen firefighters

Firefighters from Gorge counties are annually counted among those dispatched to other states to fight wildfires.

The deaths Sunday of 19 “hotshot” crew members who perished in Arizona, including a West Linn man, therefore hits close to home. The men and women who don the bright yellow protective gear do so with the knowledge they are placing themselves in peril.

The tragedy in Yarnell, Ariz., is not just a local tragedy, but an American one. The fallen firefighters ranged in age from 21-43 — men in the full flower of life — who died in public service. Our sympathies go out to their families and to all who work with them.

We all owe them our gratitude, and by extension we owe the same to their brave colleagues.

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The best way to honor our firefighters is to do whatever we can this weekend, and all summer, to prevent fires from happening.

With the temperature leading up to the July 4 holiday, Oregon Department of Forestry urges recreationists to be mindful of common fire causes: off-road driving and riding, campfires, smoking and fireworks.

Even if the forest is not bone-dry by Independence Day, the 1,200-degree-plus temperatures generated by fireworks can ignite grass, tree needles and brush nearly instantly. Leave fireworks at home over the Fourth.

Also, Hood River County and the Hood River County Parks and Recreation District recently adopted policies forbidding any tobacco use on their lands and in their facilities; these include all trails of Hood River County.

Davie Kindell, Department of the Washington Natural Resources fire prevention team leader, says, “In 2012, 79 percent of the 794 fires on state-protected lands were human-caused and preventable. Public awareness is critical to preventing human-caused wildfires.”

The team will be working in Klickitat County through July 4 to educate the public about safe practices while recreating on forested lands and the consequences of starting a wildfire.

In Hood River, Wasco, Klickitat and Skamania counties, a burn ban went into effect July 1 on all state-protected lands, including private lands, until Sept. 30. The burn ban may be extended based on weather conditions.

During the burn ban, debris burning is prohibited. Campfires are permitted in approved hosted campgrounds and may be allowed on U.S. Forest Service lands. Disbursed campsites may use gas and propane self-contained stoves and barbecues.

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Any spark is a potential ignition source; parking on or driving through dry grass once your muffler is hot is dangerous. Spark arrestors should be maintained on all ATVs.

Oregon Department of Forestry’s Regulated Use Closure took effect July 1. That means, among other things, that the use of fireworks is prohibited. Use of motorized vehicles, including motorcycles and all terrain vehicles, is prohibited, except on improved roads.

Smoking is prohibited while traveling, except in vehicles on improved roads, and on or along rivers or lakes.

Open fires are prohibited, including campfires, charcoal fires, cooking fires and warming fires, except at designated campgrounds. Portable cooking stoves using liquefied or bottled fuels are allowed.

Four-wheel-drives, ATVs and motorcycles pose a threat as well. From only a few seconds of contact with dry grass, their exhaust systems can start a smoldering burn that may flare into a wildfire minutes or even hours later.

A burning cigarette discarded into forest vegetation is like a time-delay fuse. The smoke and flames likely won’t appear until long after the smoker departs.

And one final note about those fireworks we all love so much: Leave them home, and if you do use them at home, keep them away from grass or other vegetation, make sure a hose and bucket are handy, don’t relight a “dud” and, please, put your pets indoors.

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