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Conditions are unusually warm and dry for this time of year, at least into next week.

Editor's note: Columbia River Fire & Rescue, Clatskanie Fire District, Mist-Birkenfeld Fire District, Oregon Department of Forestry, Scappoose Fire District and Vernonia Fire District jointly announced a burn ban between Friday, April 16, and Sunday, April 18, due to a Red Flag Warning in Columbia County. The National Weather Service issued the warning Thursday afternoon, April 15, due to unseasonably warm weather in the forecast and unusually dry conditions. The burn ban takes effect at midnight Friday. An earlier story about the Columbia River Fire & Rescue's advice for residents follows below.

COURTESY PHOTO: SCAPPOOSE FIRE DISTRICT - This brush fire near Scappoose in 2018 was reportedly started by a debris burn pile.Columbia River Fire & Rescue is urging people to be "vigilant" and "mindful" of fire danger this weekend.

While stopping short of implementing a burn ban, as fire agencies in neighboring Washington County ordered this week, the fire district that covers the St. Helens and Rainier areas suggests that residents reconsider if they had been planning to burn debris this week.

"While fire season has not officially started, experts say to watch the conditions and not the calendar," CRF&R spokesperson Jennifer Motherway stated in a news release Thursday morning, April 15. "The window of opportunity to clean up around homes and dispose of woody debris in a safe manner is narrowing each year. Now is the time to reassess and wait for better conditions. It may be wise to wait until fall to burn your debris piles."

Temperatures in St. Helens are forecast to rise into the low to mid-80s on Saturday and Sunday. Humidity is low, and precipitation is not expected for the next week or longer.

According to CRF&R, more than triple the typical number of fires have been reported in Oregon so far this year. Fires that were started by debris burning alone have already burned 154 acres of land under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Department of Forestry in 2021.

"Carelessness is the biggest cause of wildfires, so it is everyone's responsibility to practice fire safety," Motherway noted in the CRF&R release.

If you do plan to burn a debris pile this weekend, CRF&R says you should keep a shovel and charged garden hose on hand, watch the fire closely, and keep burning material away from structures, trees and powerlines. Burned piles should be periodically checked over the course of the next several weeks to ensure there is no re-ignition.

CRF&R also encourages people to keep debris piles small — no larger than 4 feet across.

While none of them spread into Columbia County, Oregon experienced its worst ever month for wildfires last September, with over 1 million acres burned. Smoke from those fires polluted skies in Columbia County and well beyond for more than a week, causing air quality to drop to hazardous levels.

On Wednesday, April 14, multiple fire agencies responded to a fire that involved several vehicles on a rural property miles south of Scappoose. That fire also spread to nearby trees before being brought under control.

By Mark Miller
Editor-in-Chief, Washington and Columbia counties
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