Hot and dry conditions make an already active fire season that much more volatile

This past weekend, the Prineville and Crook County community experienced yet another fire in what has become a pretty active early season.

The fire up in the Juniper Canyon area that erupted Saturday afternoon threatened multiple homes and ultimately claimed 15 acres followed another highly visible mid-afternoon blaze two weeks ago that likewise threatened to consume several homes and scorched 16 acres.

Having started on dry grasses near pine and juniper trees, the first fire could have been far worse had local emergency services personnel not benefitted from the good fortune of extra firefighters and equipment literally a few blocks away.

These fires, of course, came after a couple much larger ones northwest of our area that took off and burned up the drying landscape and filled the air with that familiar and unpleasant blanket of smoke that has seemingly become commonplace during the past few summers.

What has become concerning about some of the fires this year and even last summer, which was marred by several very large, nationally newsworthy wildfires, is that the amount of human-caused ones have seemingly increased. While the causes of the first local wildfire off Laughlin Road and this weekend's blaze in Juniper Canyon remain unknown, what we can be sure of is that they were not started by a lightning strike, which is one thing that people cannot prevent.

The fact is, in all likelihood, some accident happened that started those fires and unfortunately, this follows a trend from last summer during which the amount of human-caused fires in Central Oregon escalated. Forest Service data found that last year, more than half of the fires in Central Oregon on federal and state-managed lands were human-caused. Most years, the lightning starts outnumber human-caused ones by a 2 to 1 ratio.

It's difficult to know what has changed, but most would agree that such a trend is disturbing. Whether the conditions have been riper for human-caused fires or people have been less cautious is tough to determine, but if one thing is certain, the data suggests that people need to be more careful now than they have been in the past year.

This message is especially critical if one considers the type of weather that is in store for Crook County during the next couple of weeks. If you think it was hot and dry before, just wait until Thursday when a string of upper 90s high temperatures hits, many of which will feature — in the words of AccuWeather — "blazing sunshine."

Preaching fire safety feels clichéd, but that doesn't mean that people don't need to hear it and have certain practices reinforced. We have all heard them before: Make sure your campfires are dead out. Be extra careful with anything that can throw sparks. Don't toss cigarette butts on the ground near anything that could catch fire. Clear low-lying fire fuels around the perimeter of your home and property. And the list goes on.

In short, be careful out there. Local residents have already found out the hard way that conditions are ripe for brush fires and wildfires, and those conditions will only get worse in the days ahead.

We can't prevent lightning strikes, and accidents will happen, but the more cautious we behave, the greater the chances we avoid something catastrophic.

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