Fire danger high despite rain

Much needed rain has intermittently sprinkled Hood River Valley and most of western Oregon over the last week, but fire prevention leaders say the threat of wildfires remains prevalent.

Forecasts for the next two weeks look warm and dry for Hood River. Average temperatures rest in the upper 70s and low 80s with little new moisture in sight.

“We’re still at fire precaution Level II and we have more dry spells,” said Lt. Tiffany Peterson of Wy’East Fire District in Odell.

Peterson said there haven’t been any major fires in Hood River County since a Thursday brushfire in downtown Cascade Locks, but fuels remain dry.

Hood River Fire responded to a small wood pile fire on Sieverkropp Drive in the Heights Thursday evening, but a fire fighter declared via radio dispatch that the fire was already put out by the time he arrived.

West Side Fire Marshall Jim Trammel said fire danger remains high in Hood River County — he predicts warm, sunny weather this weekend will diminish the moisture that came from recent rains.

“Everything’s based on fuels – it hasn’t had a long time to absorb the (moisture) levels,” said Trammel. “We’re not out of the woods.”

Trammel said rain has temporarily “eased” conditions, but a few sunny days will undo that.

Oregon Department of Forestry reported Wednesday it’s a “misnomer” that precipitation has banished the statewide fire danger.

“Now is not the time for folks to let their guard down,” said ODF Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields. “We’re still in the midst of three consecutive fire seasons that have wreaked havoc in all four corners of the state. And while the small amount of rain was a welcome relief, we are far from putting this fire season to bed.”

Fields said most of the significant rainfall since August 24 has landed along the Oregon coast and Willamette Valley — the north Cascades area also received more than an inch of rain while the rest of the state remained fairly dry.

Fuels receptive to sparks and embers remain “abnormally dry,” Fields said, and are still prone to ignite and carry fire with ease. Another threat is the region’s early fall east winds that blow over the Cascades, he said.

Fires are raging throughout the West, but no Hood River County fire agencies have yet been sent out to fight the blazes.

The Mt. Adams Cougar Creek Fire was burning at 54,000 acres and was 60 percent contained as of Thursday night, and the Canyon Creek Complex near John Day was burning 105,684 acres and was 57 percent contained.

Trammel gave several reasons why Oregon’s command center in Salem has not sent Hood River crews or resources out to the fires.

First, the largest blazes in close vicinity are no longer threatening structures — the Mt. Adams fire, for instance, is burning in Yakama Nation forest land. Second, Hood River County has been on frequent red flag warning for its own fire danger.

“We’re geographically an island here because there’s no one close to help us,” said Trammel. Crews based in Portland are a “long way,” he said, when it comes to an emergency response.

A burn ban remains in place across Oregon — Trammell expects the fire season will go into at least October.

Campfires remain prohibited on private and public lands protected by ODF and the Mount Hood National Forest as well as all state parks. The exception is developed and approved campgrounds in some areas, which are marked.

Outdoor debris burning also remains prohibited. Other fire-starting activities currently restricted include the use of power equipment such as chainsaws and lawn mowers cutting dry grass, which are allowed only early in the day when fire danger is least threatening.

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