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Our first responders and hospitals are busy with COVID-19. It's up to us to practice safety during wildfire season.

COURTESY PHOTO: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR - After a quiet wildfire season in 2019, Ochoco National Forest in Central Oregon transitioned to controlled burns to slow wildfire activity in future years.Flareups. Outbreaks. Hot spots.

This is — as we've come to know all too well this year — the language of disease epidemics. But just because the coronavirus pandemic is affecting every aspect of our lives doesn't mean we should take our eye off a longer-standing safety concern.

This is also the language of wildfire season.

Temperatures soared into the triple digits at Portland International Airport for the first time in more than two years on Sunday. It's cooled off a bit since then, but not by much. This week is, as they say, a scorcher.

It's not rocket science: Heat and solar radiation dry out grasses and brush, and dried-out vegetation makes better fuel for fire. Especially high temperatures can even cause so-called spontaneous combustion, in which even without a spark to light it, internal temperatures can rise so high that a fire starts. That's what fire investigators think happened with a pile of grass clippings in Hillsboro, causing a blaze that spread to two nearby houses and an RV.

Read our July 27, 2020, story on a fire in Hillsboro that damaged two homes.

When we think of human-caused fires, we often think of the obvious sources. But while a carelessly discarded cigarette, an unattended campfire or burn pile, and recreational fireworks can indeed cause fires — and have been responsible for some of the region's most notable fires in past years — that hardly runs the gamut of fire-starting scenarios.

In the Gaston area last week, firefighters responded twice in two days to brush fires caused by the same agricultural combine. Dust can build up on the inner workings of a machine like a combine, and high heat can cause it to catch fire. It's essentially the same principle behind the lint trap in your clothes dryer at home, which should be cleaned out in between loads to avoid fires.

Read our story on the field fires in Gaston, published online July 22, 2020.

On Sauvie Island over the weekend, more than 90 acres burned in a brush fire that threatened nearby structures before being contained. That fire remains under investigation, but local fire agencies reminded residents to adhere to the burn ban that is in effect now. That ban will likely remain in effect into September or possibly later.

Read our story on a more than 90-acre wildfire on Sauvie Island, published online July 27, 2020.

We're fortunate on the West Coast in that summer, for us, is a dry season. We don't live in hurricane country. Summer thunderstorms, while not unheard of here, don't occur with nearly the same frequency they do in the Midwest, the South or the Northeast. There are many places in this country where it can be 90 degrees and pouring rain and that's a fairly ordinary summer day. The Willamette Valley isn't among them.

But the price of our dry summers is necessary vigilance. We know summer as not just a dry season, but also as wildfire season.

In recent years, we've seen wildfires even hundreds of miles away cloud our sunny days with haze and smoke. We're fortunate not to have had a wildfire in our area burn tens of thousands of acres and force hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, as California has endured multiple times over the past three years alone. But the threat exists. It is a real possibility.

Right now, our first responders and hospitals are dealing with the COVID-19 surge. They shouldn't be burdened further by a major fire. Of all times, this time would be the worst to have a natural disaster strain our resources and stress our populace further.

So it's on us to be careful.

Follow fire safety tips. Obey the burn ban — absolutely. But also don't neglect to clean outdoor equipment and machinery, like farm vehicles, that generate heat. Take extra caution with household appliances that put out heat, like clothes dryers, toasters and grills. Be attentive and alert when operating heavy machinery. Dispose of flammable waste properly, whether it's lawn trimmings or cigarette ash.

Wildfire season comes and goes every year. Let's all do our part to make sure this season, of all seasons, passes uneventfully.


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