The column from the seasonís first fire loomed over Sisters Country. photo by Gary Miller
Drying conditions prompted the Oregon Department of Forestry's Central Oregon District to declare the start of wildfire season effective Monday morning, June 9, nearly a week earlier than last year and three weeks earlier than what is traditionally considered normal.
And, as if on cue, a major wildfire erupted 10 miles southeast of Sisters on Saturday. The Two Bulls Fire has grown to 6,800 acres and forced evacuations on the west side of Bend.
Smoke is visible from Sisters and occasionally made its effects felt, especially in the cool morning hours.
The Sisters-Camp Sherman fire district has closed burning season a week early.
The current warm, dry weather led District Forester George Ponte to make the fire season call.
"Everyone is aware of the drought conditions in and around Central Oregon," he said. "The snowpack from this winter is well below average in many areas and several counties within Central Oregon District have declared drought emergencies. Precipitation over the last 90 days has been near or below average, and warm, dry weather is expected to continue. As a result we are quickly approaching high fire-danger levels, when a fire that starts can get big very quickly. The fire season declaration is intended to alert people to these conditions and get them thinking about fire prevention."
The declaration of fire season imposes certain restrictions on the public and people working in the forests. The use of fireworks, exploding targets, tracer ammunition, or any bullet with a pyrotechnic charge at its base is prohibited. Forest operators are required to have firefighting equipment on site. Open burning is prohibited without a permit issued by ODF or a local fire department. However, most fire departments have suspended or will soon suspend issuing such permits.
Homeowners considering burning yard waste must check with their local fire department about current burning restrictions prior to lighting any fires.
Wildfire safety restrictions can change quickly during the season and vary from one jurisdiction to another. Recreationists planning to visit National Forests, Bureau of Land Management or other federal lands are advised to check with those federal offices for information on current restrictions.
"The professionals that forecast fire conditions anticipate higher than normal potential for large, destructive wildfires not only in Oregon but in much of the West," he said. "The number of fires we get is largely a factor of how much lightning there is during fire season. But any fire that starts, whether caused by lightning or human activities, will have potential to become a large and destructive one."
That has certainly played out with the Two Bulls Fire, which has been determined to be human caused.
In 2013, the district declared fire season on June 14.