PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After this weekend’s rainfall, the question remains: is Oregon’s 2021 wildfire season over?
The short answer is no — but the good news is that the way this wildfire season has gone, officials think we have already seen the worst of it this year. Jim Gersbach, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said 2020’s wildfire season came in like a lamb and out like a lion, but this year is the exact opposite.
Gersbach says last year we didn’t have a bad summer up until the historic wind event on Labor Day Weekend. For that reason, we were socked in with some of the worse air quality in the world. Because of this year’s severe drought, that behavior was reversed.
“The summer up until this point has been a fairly significant fire season,” Gersbach said. “What’s happened though as we’ve gotten into September is we got a break from mother nature.”
This was aided in part by Governor Kate Brown’s Wildfire Council allocating an additional $5 million to the state’s wildfire suppression efforts earlier this summer.
While the funds are helpful and enable more resources to reach fires early on, Gersbach says the real problem we’ve been seeing in recent summers is the size of the blazes. This begs the question of whether our forests can sustain these massive burns.
In 2021, approximately 800,000 acres have burned across Oregon. In 2020, we watched as a million acres burned within just one week. Officials tell KOIN 6 News these megafires are not sustainable.
Natural fires caused by weather that burn our lower dry fuels are normal and welcome, but because our forests have gotten so dry everything is burning — and burning fast.
“Almost everywhere in the state is almost entirely in drought and most of that is severe to exceptional to extreme,” Gersbach said.
While the weekend rain was welcome, we need more soaking days and nights to put an end to this year’s fire danger.
Moving forward, Gersbach says the ambition for these agencies is to attain more money for prescribed burns — ones that are intentionally started on purpose to take out the underbrush, fostering a condition that creates low-intensity fires instead of ones that get out of control.