With the hottest temperatures in 25 years forecast for this week and regional wildfires heating up, the fire danger has been elevated to "Extreme." What exactly does that mean and how do we know it’s extreme?
Fire season is tracked primarily by the Oregon Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service. They look at a combination of the drying of dead and live vegetation and weather trends as an indicator of how hot a wildfire will burn. There are also indicators on a daily basis, like the fire weather warnings, or “red flags,” that are issued by the National Weather Service. That’s probably intuitive looking at the brown hills and the smoky haze already in the air this week, so what should you do, or not do during fire season?
Fire season restrictions on potentially fire causing activities are divided into the general public and licensed contractors. Contractors follow the Industrial Fire Precaution Level, or IFPL. The IFPL allows more flexibility but also requires more of contractors to prevent and respond to fires. All restrictions change in relation to how hot and dry it is through the summer and into fall, typically becoming more restrictive as the weather becomes hotter and drier.
As of July 31 this year, the general public cannot operate gas powered machinery in an area of dry vegetation. You can still work in an irrigated landscape, but be extra careful and wet down the area before and after. You can still use electric tools in any setting. However, any spark emitting activity like grinding metal is not allowed, even if you’re using an electric grinding tool. No fire use is permitted in any form, including debris burning, weed burners, outdoor fire pits, or smoking in areas of dry vegetation to name a few. Fireworks and sky lanterns are always prohibited throughout the year.
Outdoor fire pits are always tricky to explain. During high and extreme fire danger (yellow and red on the Smokey Bear sign), NO outdoor fires are allowed at all, anywhere in the city. At all other times of the year, you can have an outdoor fireplace, but it has to be a model with a spark arresting screen, either on the chimney or covering the fire such that the screen stays in place when you put wood in. If you have to open the screen to put wood in, letting the sparks escape, then it’s not allowable, even during the winter.
Licensed contractors under an IFPL II right now can operate up until 1 p.m. and after 8 p.m. with specific measures in place to prevent fire including water source, firefighting tools, cell phone to call 911, and a fire watch after work is completed. This changes as the season progresses, similar to public restrictions.
Following the fire season rules protects our community, economy, and quality of life. Fire season information can be found at www.ashland.or.us/fireseason. Please report any violations of fire season restrictions, because it just takes one spark to cause irreparable harm. Should a fire start, know what to do by following the Ready, Set, Go! protocol at www.ashland.or.us/evacuation.
—The Alarm Box, a column with local public safety information written by Ashland Fire & Rescue personnel, appears triweekly in the Tidings. Chris Chambers is the forestry division chief for the department.