Where We Live: Pandemic, drought conditions bring wildfire worries

Wildfires

There have not been any major wildfires in the state so far this year

generic ponderosa pine trees sisters central oregon_1557449095808

This Sept. 27, 2017, photo shows charred trunks of Ponderosa pines near Sisters, Ore., months after a prescribed burn removed vegetation, smaller trees and other fuel ladders last spring. The thinning of forests in central Oregon has saved homes amid one of the most devastating wildfire seasons in the American West. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As we enter into Oregon’s wildfire season, drought-like conditions mean much of the state is vulnerable — and the coronavirus could make fighting wildfires even more of a challenge.​

In 2019, nearly 80,000 acres burned in Oregon, making it a moderate year. ​But, over the past several years, millions of acres have burned.​ That includes the devastating Eagle Creek Fire of 2017 which scorched 50,000 acres in the Columbia Gorge.​ The area is still recovering today.​

Heading into the 2020 fire season, much of the state is already dry, especially in southern Oregon. Officials warn that the 2019 Milepost 97 Fire near Canyonville that took out 13,000 acres could happen again.​

The Eagle Creek Fire, 2 years later
Milepost 97 Fire now 65% contained, cost $19M

“We’re not out of the woods, especially going into the summer,” said Tom Fields of the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Most wildfires start with lightning strikes.​ But, the ODF says humans account for most fires on the land that it protects.​

That includes debris burns that get out of control — and with early bans on overnight camping due to COVID-19, people are tempted to go deeper into the woods.​

“Which are unsafe areas to have a campfire, so it’s raising a red flag of concern for us there as well,” said Fields.​

The pandemic is also affecting firefighting.​ Part of the training is virtual now and social distancing is in play.​

“You may see where we normally have an engine with three or four people, maybe only one or two,” said Fields. “And those folks are going to be outfitted with the proper PPE related to COVID-19.”

Oregon will always battle wildfires — but this year, your role is as great as ever.​

“We really need the public’s cooperation to help us be part of the solution and not the problem.”

If you do plan on going camping, make sure you check to see where campfires are allowed on both state and federal lands.​

Although we haven’t seen any major wildfires in the state so far this year, it’s important to always be safe and do your part when it comes to fire safety.

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