OTE - Oregon Travel Experience

Dry season equals vacation vigilance

Posted on: May 29th, 2015 by Madeline MacGregor in News & Press | No Comments

Prepare the family for safe travel this summer

Smokey SaysOur partners at the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) are busy spreading the word about the dangerous and extremely dry conditions this year. Oregon Travel Experience is passing along ODF’s tips and advice on protecting our state’s wide open forests and fields during this year’s drought.

As part of our mission to direct motorists to essential services (with signage for campgrounds and recreational vehicle sites), we help vacationers discover Oregon’s scenic treasures. This summer, it is critical that all of us remain vigilant and help prevent wild and forest fires from starting.

ODF’s Kristen Babbs asked OTE to help educate both Oregonians and first-time travelers about the heightened dangers this fire season.

Babbs noted that ODF spent $200 million stamping out wildfires out over the past two fire seasons. This does not take into account the dozens of homes lost, the impact to communities, and the loss of valuable natural resources. The cost of fire goes well beyond dollars and cents.

As May’s Wildfire Awareness Month comes to an end in Oregon, it is the hope of wildland fire protection agencies that the message has been received leading into what could be another catastrophic fire season.

“We’re faced with a daunting task,” says Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields. “With drought conditions plaguing much of the state, it is crystal clear that, as a society, we all need to put fire prevention practices front and center in our daily lives.”

Statewide under ODF’s protection of nearly 16 million acres, 70 percent of all wildfires are human-caused. Human-caused fires are anything not started by lightning and include but are not limited to outdoor debris burning, campfires, smoking, equipment use (including vehicles, power lines, lawn mowers, welding, etc.), fireworks, ammunition, exploding targets and arson.

While Fields says some fires are accidental, many result from carelessness. “It’s all about changing the way we do things and recognizing the warning signs.” Fields says that perhaps the best example of this is burning yard debris during warm, windy conditions. “People think that they are in control and are under the mindset that this will never happen to them. And as soon as the wind picks up and pushes flames and embers outside their burn pile, it’s off to the races and out of their control.”

In 2014, ODF responded to 171 debris burn fires that burned 1,900 acres and cost more than $805,000 to suppress: That’s an average of $4,711 per fire. In many cases the responsible party is liable for these fire suppression costs.

Oregon Wildfires (AP Photo/John Luerding)Fire season is close. Each ODF District will go into fire season based on conditions in their respective areas. Things to prepare for when fire season arrives include: the end of unregulated outdoor debris burning (already prohibited in some areas); keeping campfires in approved campgrounds; and keeping vehicles on improved roads that are free of dry, flammable vegetation.

Fields says that the severity of the 2015 fire season will depend on two key factors: Mother Nature and people. “There’s not a whole lot we can do about lightning except be prepared with firefighting resources before the storm hits. People, on the other hand, can make a huge difference in the success, or failure, of a challenging summer.”

What you can do

ODF’s Babbs provides the following tips for families and travelers who will be utilizing campsites this summer:

  • Know before you go – Call your local forestry or fire district to learn if there are any current campfire restrictions at your recreation destination. An interactive map of Oregon’s fire restrictions is available at www.keeporegongreen.org.
  • Kick the campfire habit this summer – Portable camp stoves are a safer option to campfires at any time of year. Areas that prohibit campfires outside maintained campgrounds with established fire pits will often allow the use of camp stoves.
  • Select the right spot – Where campfires are allowed, avoid building the fire near your tent, structures, vehicles, shrubs and trees, and be aware of low-hanging branches overhead. Clear the site down to mineral soil, at least five feet on all sides, and circle your campfire site with rocks. Store your unused firewood a good distance from the fire.
  • Keep your campfire small – A campfire is less likely to escape control if it is kept small. A large fire may cast hot embers long distances. Add firewood in small amounts as existing material is consumed.
  • Attend your campfire at all times – A campfire left unattended for only a few minutes can grow into a costly, damaging wildfire. Staying with your campfire from start to finish until dead out is required by state law, to ensure that any escaped sparks or embers can be extinguished quickly.
  • Never use gasoline or other accelerants (flammable or combustible liquids) to start or increase your campfire. Once the fire is ignited, wait until the match is cold and then discard it in the fire.
  • Always have water and fire tools on site – Have a shovel and a bucket of water nearby to
    extinguish any escaped embers. When you are ready to leave, drown all embers with water, stir
    the coals, and drown again. Repeat until the fire is dead/out. If it is too hot to touch, it is too hot to leave.
  • Burn only wood – State regulations prohibit the open burning of any material that creates
    dense, toxic smoke or noxious odors.

Escaped campfires are costly – The Oregon Department of Forestry spent more than $3.3 million in 2014 to suppress unattended and escaped campfires. State law requires the proper clearing, building, attending and extinguishing of open fires any time of year. A first-time citation carries a $110 fine. If your campfire spreads out of control, you are responsible for the cost of fire suppression. This can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.

 For more information, visit the Keep Oregon Green website, www.keeporegongreen.org.

Children’s educational material

Smokey the BearPlanning on traveling or driving to the campsite with children? The USDA Forest Service sponsors several great publications for children, including a downloadable PDF we have provided here. Smokey the Bear talks about proper campfire building and tending, and shows how to extinguish the fire after the smores and hotdogs are roasted.

For additional publications geared for the classroom or family, visit the Smokey the Bear website.



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