Early Fire Season Announced In SW Oregon, Starting May 1
Conditions are pointing towards a bad wildfire year in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California.
The start of the 2020 wildfire season was officially announced to begin on May 1 in the Oregon Department of Forestry's Southwestern District, the first time the season has started this early in years.
So far this year there have been more than 30 wildfires caused by open burning, according to ODF. That fire activity happened about a month earlier than usual. And the long-range forecast calls for above average temperatures and below average precipitation.
“If you’re ever going to be cautious about wildfire and you really want to have that goal for not starting one, this is the year to do that,” says Brian Ballou, a spokesperson with the Oregon Department of Forestry. “We don’t need any more fire starts than what mother nature may bring us,”
The Southwest Oregon District comprises 1.8 million acres of land in Jackson and Josephine Counties.
The last time the district’s fire season started on May 1 was in 1968, according to Ballou. However, there have been starts to the fire season in April as recently as in 1988. Regardless, the conditions are pointing to a year unlike the smoke-free summer of 2019.
“Unfortunately, this one is sizing up to be potentially a summer with a lot of wildfires,” Ballou says.
The United States Drought Monitor currently lists counties in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California in extreme drought. Our region is currently ranked as having the highest drought conditions anywhere in the Western U.S.
In response to the early fire season the Medford Fire Department is asking residents to mow dry vegetation and create defensible space now, while fire risk is relatively low.
“Some of the driest years in my career we’ve seen very few fires because people were more aware of the risk and they were taking extra precautions,” says Greg Kleinberg, deputy chief and fire marshal for the Medford Fire Department.
The Oregon Department of Forestry is implementing a range of restrictions in an effort to try to reduce wildfire risk. Those include restricted use of fireworks, campfires outside of designated campgrounds and smoking in areas with dry vegetation.