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We all need to remain vigilant with these high temperatures and dry conditions

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Shane JeffriesSeptember means that fire season is fading in Central Oregon, but we're not quite "out of the woods."

Shorter days and cooler nights with higher relative humidities can help moderate fire behavior, but we all need to remain vigilant with these high temperatures and dry conditions.

Fire season in Central Oregon can get pretty active, but so far, we've only had two large incidents. This is no accident. The majority of these fires were kept small because of the work our firefighters have been able to accomplish in conjunction with state partners at the Oregon Department of Forestry and the many Rangeland Fire Protection Associations that respond quickly and efficiently to these wildfires.

Our firefighters have been busy responding to a record number of human-caused starts this year. In 2020, firefighters have responded to 157 human-caused starts across Central Oregon compared to 93 in 2019. In response to that, we implemented public use restrictions at the end of June to allow campfires only in designated campgrounds.

Now that hunting season is in full swing, we are seeing a lot of use outside of campgrounds. With colder nights and cool autumn mornings, we understand and identify with the desire to have a campfire. That's why this year, we are now allowing portable propane fire pits to be used in lieu of a campfire. This will allow folks who choose not to stay in one of the many campgrounds on the forest where campfires are allowed, to have the same campfire experience that makes camping special—while also minimizing fire danger. Portable campfires, along with camp stoves and lanterns, are allowed on all public lands except for the John Day and Deschutes River corridors managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

In addition to the 157 human-caused starts, firefighters have responded to 47 lightning fires across the region. One of those became the Frog Fire burning within the Ochoco National Forest boundary in the Maury Mountain unit on U.S. Forest Service managed land and private land.

That fire is now 100% contained at 4,020 acres. This fire was attacked from the time it was reported in rough and steep terrain. Firefighters worked this fire for a few days but continued to be challenged by hot, dry and windy conditions in addition to material rolling out from the burned area into the unburned area below.

A Type 2 Incident Management Team was brought in to manage the fire at the higher level of complexity and handed it back to our local firefighters to continue to monitor until the snow flies.

Again, we had great coordination with the ODF, Prineville District Bureau of Land Management and Brothers-Hampton RFPA in containing this fire and appreciate the cooperation and support of the local landowners who hosted our base camp and allowed us to stage equipment on their land. Minimizing drive time and having quick access to the fire area was a critical piece of getting this contained so quickly, so we were grateful to those folks who allowed us the opportunity to use their land to support firefighting efforts.

FALL ON THE FOREST

The Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland have seen record numbers of visitors this year. A lot of this use has been from Central Oregonians trying to find a new favorite spot on their public lands. Some of the visitation has come from out-of-area visitors who are coming to the forest or grassland for the first time.

People have purchased everything from RVs to kayaks, side-by-sides to mountain bikes to get out onto public lands and make memories with their families. We welcome all visitors to the forest and grassland knowing that when you fall in love with these places, that connection can last a lifetime.

We've also seen unprecedented levels of people on roads and trails. This renewed interest in public lands has coincided with the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act. This Act accomplishes two objectives: (1) establishing a new fund for five years to address the maintenance backlog of the U.S. Forest Service and other federal land management agencies, and (2) provides permanent full funding of the Land and Water Conservation fund which provides for federal land acquisition and Forest Legacy grants to states under existing programs.

Both of those objectives are good news for the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland we have a list of projects ready to go when the funding comes.

Fall is one of the more beautiful times to visit the Ochoco National Forest. Whether you are new to visiting the forest and grassland or have loved it for generations, we hope you continue to find enjoyment in a long drive, checking out the changing colors of the larch trees or revel in a cool autumn weekend getaway camping with your family. We'll see you outside!


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