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Potential for wildfire lowered on national maps, but local officials caution vigilance

COURTESY GRAPHIC: NATIONAL INTERAGENCY FIRE CENTER, PREDICTIVE SERVICES - The National Interagency Fire Center recently released this map for August, which outlines significant fire potential. Although Columbia County is rated at normal risk, Fire Marshal Jeff Pricher warned that conditions can still be dangerous. With a rash of cooler weather in the immediate forecast, the risk for wildfires is lowered, but residents should still be aware of the potential for fires even on cool days.

While Columbia County was recently downgraded from above normal risk in July to normal risk in August, according to the most recently released predictions by the National Interagency Fire Center, the rating may be somewhat misleading, Scappoose Fire District Division Chief and Fire Marshal Jeff Pricher explained.

"It looks like they took us out of the red for August and September and previously we were in the red (in July), but that's a little deceiving," Pricher said.

The National Interagency Fire Center regularly releases predictions on significant wildfire potential. The map outlines areas of the West Coast experiencing normal, above normal or below normal fire conditions.

When national prediction agencies look at fire risk, they often consider fuel conditions and moisture. But when a small bought of rain hits just outside of Columbia County across the Columbia River in Washington for example, Pricher explained, that data can skew conditions for the whole region.

"When they punch everything into the computer, it's not going to be representative of what we have locally," Pricher

said.

Small doses of rain can moisten fuel sources, but grass and brush only need a few hours of direct sunlight to dry out, he added. Those small, dry fuel sources are often what carry embers into larger fuel sources, such as shrubs, brushes and trees.

Homeowners should maintain landscaping within 30 to 100 feet of their homes in order to minimize fire risk year-round.

"We all should be concerned and reticent with maintaining a schedule of maintenance around our home," Pricher said.

Cool days with high humidity are opportunities to do yard work and maintenance. Cooler weather can help minimize the risk of igniting dried out fuel sources from sparks or friction from the use of lawn mowers or other tools.

"Making sure that home ignition zone is relatively clear ... that 30 to 100 feet around the home ... is of great importance for people who live areas with lots of trees," Pricher added.

ODOT addresses fires across the state

As summer continues, the Oregon Department of Transportation issued a number of reminders to anyone traveling in the state about what they should do if

they encounter a wildfire near the roadways.

Currently wildfires are already burning along I-5 in southern Oregon, and along other roads throughout the state.

In July and August, firefighters in Oregon have been battling numerous blazes throughout the state, including the Milepost 97 fire in Douglas County which burned more than 13,000 acres. Smokey conditions may reduce visibility and cause delays.

Motorists are encouraged to keep their headlights on, watch for fire crews and firefighters, and pay attention to the roadway. They can also use the website, www.tripcheck.com, to look for updates on road restrictions or closures.

ODOT offers the following advice for motorists who may encounter fire conditions:

? If there's smoke, turn on your headlights and slow down

? If you can't see, carefully pull to the side of the road

? If pulling a trailer, make sure nothing is dragging that can spark or overheat

? Keep your vehicle well-maintained so it doesn't overheat or get a flat tire

? Don't throw things out of your vehicle like a lit cigarette

? Carry an emergency kit with extra water, food and medications

? Know your route and possible detours

? Pay attention — you need to drive, not take pictures, especially when there's a fire


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