Fire season in the age of the pandemic

Coronavirus

Sustained wind, backyard burning not a good combination

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — People are spending more time at home due to the coronvirus pandemic. Many are spending the extra time in their yards—but with spring off to a warm and dry start, officials are cautioning against the burning of debris piles.

Thursday marked the 12th day of no measurable rain up and down the Willamette Valley and into Southwest Washington. The National Weather Service issued a Fire Weather Watch Thursday afternoon from areas of Cottage Grove all the way up to Woodland to remind residents to be aware of fire dangers.

Burn bans have already been put in place in Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties. Fire officials in Clark County said they dealt with four fires within a 72-hour period this week. Oregonians have been asked—but not ordered—to wait to burn debris piles.

The coronavirus is also challenging firefighters in other ways: even though they wear protective gear while battling blazes, they are often in close contact with one another when that gear comes off.

“We have fire camps set up for 2,000 people at a time,” said Oregon Fire Marshal Jim Walker. “[They’re] standing in line at times for showers, feeding, at tables, shoulder-to-shoulder—some of the things we will have to solve as we go into fire season.”

State and local fire bosses are working on plans like changing how meals are provided. Some of the hands-on training sessions for state and federal lands wildfire preparation have been moved online.

Fire Weather Watch issued for Willamette Valley Thursday

Weather models are depicting very dry conditions for Friday afternoon with relative humidity sitting at concerning levels. The lower the relative humidity is the more willing conditions are to start a fire and burn. Sustained wind out of the east is expected to hit between 10-15 miles per hour with gusts pushing the mid-20s. This can spell trouble for fire spread if one is to ignite.

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