Our Opinion: Pumpkin spice isn't the end of fire season
It's hot. Too hot. This editorial board is firmly against 100-degree days, and we're not too keen on the mid- to upper 90s, either.
But while we'd love to spend the day shaking our fists at the outrageously warm weather — from a shady spot, it should go without saying, ideally with one of those spray misters and maybe a fan going — we'd like to focus on something that readers can do more immediately to prevent this scorcher of a week from turning into a scorcher of fields, trees and buildings.
That's right: It's fire season. It's been fire season for a while, actually, but on Monday, a red flag warning was declared for most of the Willamette Valley. When the weather is especially hot and dry, the risk for fire goes up — way up, actually, as underbrush and other woody debris dries out and turns into kindling waiting for a spark.
There's a common misconception about forest fires — namely, that they're either an act of God, caused by a dry lightning strike in the woods somewhere, or that they're arson, as fire investigators believe Monday's four-alarm blaze in East Portland was.
It's true that these are the cause of some fires. But a lot of fires start in innocuous ways — a burn pile that reignites and spreads, a spark from machinery or even a car that sets some nearby brush ablaze, a cigarette not completely stubbed out and discarded in dry grass or nutrient-rich soil. In some cases, the cause might never be known. Fire investigations aren't always an exact science.
What's the takeaway, in totality? Vigilance.
There are lots of ways for a wildfire to start. That means we all have to take extra care, especially when we're working, recreating or operating heavy machinery — yes, that includes cars, trucks, RVs, motorcycles and four-wheelers, especially off-road — to minimize our fire risk.
It's hot. Too hot. If you can, listen to what Mother Nature is telling you and stay out of the sun.
Fire experts urge people to avoid mowing the lawn or any other activity that can create sparks, which in turn can start fires, while a red flag warning is in effect.
If you have to work — the harvest waits for no one, after all — then take precautions. Experts suggest inspecting all machinery and electrical systems before going into the field for any wear, damage, exposed wires or debris buildup that could cause overheating or send off sparks. Keep a couple of fire extinguishers at hand, plus water if possible. Have a plan to quickly create a fire break. If a fire does start, call 9-1-1 immediately.
If you're planning to go camping, leave the fire-starting equipment at home. If you're grilling, check and clean it first, keep it clear of any structures or vegetation, and keep sand, baking soda or a fire extinguisher close by to put out fires. Water won't work on a grease fire, so be ready to smother the flames. If a fire does start, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Managing fire risk isn't impossible, but it does require thought and care.
And in truth, this is a tough time of the year to spare much thought and care. For many of us, we're consumed with the back-to-school rigmarole, buying school supplies and figuring out bus schedules. Some of us are scrambling to finish up home improvement projects or work in the yard that we wanted to get done before the weather turns cool and wet.
But while it's already pumpkin spice season at Starbucks, it's still summer — and it's still fire season.
We're coming up on the five-year anniversary of the Scoggins Creek Fire, the last major wildfire in Washington County. Let's not mark the occasion with the next major wildfire in Washington County.
Practice fire safety, and stay cool out there.
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