Outdoor debris burning has sparked a disproportionate number of early fires

PMG FILE PHOTO - The rate of wildfires in Oregon is four times what the state experienced in the first three months of 2020.

While many Oregonians are enjoying the warmer and drier weather as of late, state firefighters are wary. That's because the rate of fires already is ahead of normal this year.

Tom Fields, the fire prevention coordinator for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said a number of burn bans are already in effect in various counties, as officials note landowners attempting to gather — and burn — debris. But Fields advised against it given current conditions.

"So right now, we're looking at about 85 fires since Jan. 1. Which, comparing to the average of 22 fires this time of year, we're about four times the number of fires that we normally see here in the spring," he said. "Of those 85 fires, more than half of those have been resulting from outdoor debris burning."

Fields said it is still OK to pile up slash and debris, which can be covered with plastic and kept for when more reasonable conditions come, like the fall or winter.

When conditions warrant, fire experts offer this advice:

• Place yard debris in an open area away from structures, trees and power lines.

• Create small piles — 4 feet by 4 feet — to better manage the burn.

• Cover portions of piles with polyethylene plastic, a landscaping material, to keep a portion dry for lighting later, preferably in late fall or winter.

• When conditions improve, check with local fire agencies for any regulations in place.

• Never burn under windy conditions.

• To maintain containment, create a perimeter around the pile at a minimum of 3 feet, scraped clear to bare mineral soil.

• Keep a shovel and charged hose nearby to manage the burn.

• Make sure the pile is completely extinguished before leaving.

• Return periodically over several weeks to make sure the pile is still out: No heat, no smoke.

Stay informed by visiting local fire agencies, protective associations and ODF web pages as well as Keep Oregon Green and Office of the Oregon State Fire Marshal.

You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.