Thursday, October 1, 2015

Wildfire Burns Workshop, 10 Acres on Meadows Rd

A wildfire speeding through dry grass burned a large workshop and 10 acres of woodland this afternoon along Meadows Rd. Structural fire protection engines from Jackson County Fire District 3 and wildland fire engines, a bulldozer and three helicopters from the Oregon Department of Forestry kept the fire from causing more damage.

Crews were dispatched to the fire around 4:15 p.m. and had the wildfire contained by nightfall.

The cause of the fire is being investigated.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Take Care Not to Cause a Wildfire When Hunting

Hunting season kicks into high gear Saturday, Oct. 3, when centerfire rifles may be used in southwest Oregon for deer hunting. Hunters are cautioned to be careful with activities that could spark a wildfire. Oregon remains in one of the driest fire seasons on record, and many fire prevention regulations continue to be in effect.

Campfires are allowed only in state and county campgrounds. Always monitor a campfire while it is burning and completely extinguish the flames and all embers before leaving camp. Have a bucket of water and a shovel near to the fire pit.

Camp stoves using gasoline or propane fuels are allowed outside of campgrounds. Keep a fire extinguisher handy whenever a camp stove is being used. It’s also a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher inside of every vehicle. A 2½-lb A-B-C fire extinguisher is adequate for most camp kitchen and vehicle fire emergencies.

Smoking is never allowed while walking through the woods, or when riding on horseback, on a bicycle or on an ATV or motorcycle. Smoke only inside an enclosed vehicle and use an ashtray or other fire-safe container.

Never drive motorized vehicles off improved roads. An improved road has adequate width for a four-wheeled car or truck, and has fire-resistant surface comprised of gravel or asphalt. An unimproved road typically has vegetation growing in the median or other parts of the driving surface, and has brush and tree branches hanging over the roadway. If branches scrape along the side of a vehicle, or grass is flattened by a vehicle when driving over it, then the road is unimproved and shouldn’t be driven.

Motorcycles and other motorized all-terrain vehicles are not allowed on trails.

Chain saws, generators and other equipment using an internal combustion engine must be shut down by 1:00 p.m. Have a water supply and fire-fighting tools, such as a shovel and an axe, at the site where the equipment is being used. Perform a one-hour fire watch after the equipment is shut down.

Target shooting has become a significant cause of wildfires. Tracer ammunition and exploding targets are banned in all wildland and forested areas. Target shooting with conventional ammunition and targets is allowed, but use care not to create sparks with metal-on-metal contact. Remove brass and other debris when finished with target shooting.

Many private forestlands remain closed due to the high fire danger. A complete list of land closures is available online.

For more information about the Oregon Department of Forestry’s fire season regulations, contact the unit office in your area:

  • Medford Unit, 5286 Table Rock Rd., Central Point. Phone: (541) 664-3328
  • Grants Pass Unit, 5375 Monument Drive, Grants Pass. Phone: (541) 474-3152

Friday, September 25, 2015

Seven Gypsy Moths Trapped in Grants Pass Area

After six straight years of single digit detections, the Oregon Department of Agriculture has trapped 14 gypsy moths this summer including two Asian gypsy moths in the Portland area. The results signal an increased concern of the threat posed by the plant-eating invasive species and has prompted an evaluation of next steps to deal with the insect pest.

“This is an exceptionally destructive insect that would change the health of our forests, making them far more vulnerable to other invasive plant issues, causing a loss of foliage on trees as well as damaging agricultural-related industries that would face quarantines should the gypsy moth get established,” says Clint Burfitt, manager of ODA’s Insect Pest Prevention and Management Program.

[ See ODA's Gypsy Moth Fact Sheet. ]

After placing approximately 15,000 traps statewide this spring, ODA has found seven gypsy moths near Grants Pass in Josephine County, five in the greater Portland area, one in Forest Grove in Washington County, and one in West Linn in Clackamas County. Two of the moths were trapped in or near Portland’s Forest Park, another two in the St. Johns area and the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6. Perhaps most significant is the detection of Asian gypsy moth– one in Forest Park, the other near St. Johns. The other 12 moths are the more common European strain of the insect.

Asian gypsy moth is potentially a much more dangerous insect. Unlike its European cousin, the female Asian gypsy moth has the ability to fly, which could lead to a more rapid infestation and subsequent spread. The Asian gypsy moth also has a larger appetite for what grows in Oregon, including a taste for conifers. There have been just three Asian gypsy moths detected in Oregon prior to this year– a single catch in North Portland in 1991, one caught in Portland’s Forest Park in 2000, and one caught in St. Helens in 2006.

It’s notable that two of the three Asian gypsy moths trapped in Oregon were relatively in the same locations as this year’s detections. Additionally, an Asian gypsy moth has been trapped across the Columbia River near the Port of Vancouver in Washington.

The detections of Asian gypsy moth are not completely surprising since the insect pest was ultimately transported by ships arriving from Asia, particularly Russia.

“We can speculate that the moths likely came from Far East Russia as thousands of steel plates are imported from areas across the Pacific that are infested with Asian gypsy moth,” says Burfitt.

Patrols from US Customs and Border Protection as well as US Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have worked with shipping companies to inspect vessels before they arrive in Oregon and elsewhere around the country, but the chances of intercepting every potentially viable gypsy moth egg mass are challenging. It is likely that the adult moths trapped this year in the Portland Vancouver area originated from one of those egg masses.

“We are receiving an increased number of shipments into our ports from Russia, Korea, China, and Japan,” says Burfitt. “Those Asian ports are well lit and near forested areas. The Asian gypsy moths are attracted to the lights. Female moths fly onto the ships, then lay their eggs on containers and commodities. Based on the high population of moths at these Asian ports and the egg masses that have been recovered from the ships the past couple of years, there is a heightened alert nationally to be on the lookout for Asian gypsy moth.”

Oregonians have more experience with the European gypsy moth, which is usually introduced when new residents or travelers from areas of high gypsy moth populations in the eastern US unwittingly bring the pest with them on outdoor household furniture or other items that may harbor gypsy moth eggs.

For the third straight year, ODA has trapped European gypsy moths near Grants Pass and the seven detected this year are further proof of a breeding population in the area.

Now that nearly all of the 15,000 gypsy moth traps have been checked and removed for the year, ODA and its partners are examining the data while considering the best course of action. While no plans have been determined yet, there is the possibility of gypsy moth eradication projects next spring in Josephine County and North Portland. This year, the State of Washington has caught Asian gypsy moths as well, incuding the one in Vancouver.

A USDA technical working group will be offering recommendations to both states on the next steps, which may include spray projects in spring 2016 using Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (Btk)– an organically approved product and natural-occurring bacterium that targets the gypsy moth.

For many years, spraying for gypsy moth was an annual event in Oregon, but the most recent eradication project took place in 2009. Oregon’s gypsy moth history shows the cyclical nature of the insect. Prior to this year’s 14 detections, there were just four detections in 2014, two moths caught in 2013, one moth in 2012, and no detections in 2011. By contrast, more than 19,000 gypsy moths were trapped in Lane County alone in the mid-1980s. Despite the lack of moths up until this year, the threat of new introductions to Oregon is constant on an annual basis.

So far, Oregon has avoided the unsavory prospect of having to learn to live with the gypsy moth. That’s why the just-completed detection program continues to be an important tool in fighting off an unwanted invader.

“History shows that we have a very good program that finds gypsy moth populations while they are small and treatable,” says Helmuth Rogg, ODA’s Director of Plant Programs. “We have a track record of eradicating small pockets of gypsy moth in Oregon as soon as we detect them. Without a good trapping program and a safe, effective eradication program, that would not be possible.”

As officials mull over the options and contemplate what needs to happen next, history shows that the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s emphasis on early detection and rapid response to the gypsy moth threat fits well with ODA’s mission to protect the state’s natural environment and economy from the impact of an invasive species that has caused havoc in other parts of the country and the world.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Prescribed Forest Burning: Counterpoint to Wildfire

Fire-weary Oregonians are like soldiers lately returned from the battlefield who duck at the sound of a car backfiring - a glimpse of smoke in the distance raises anxiety. But fall is when the counterpoint to wildfire emerges on the landscape: prescribed forest burning.

Many forest landowners are currently planning controlled burns to occur whenever wildfire danger subsides in their areas. These deliberate fires meet a twofold purpose:

  • Prepare logged sites for replanting of young trees
  • Reduce fuel loads to lower the risk of wildfires next summer

Unlike wildfires, which occur under the worst of conditions, prescribed burns are conducted only when weather and wind patterns are optimal to carry smoke up and away from communities and popular recreation sites. And forest operators and wildland fire agencies staff the sites with fire engines and personnel to prevent the burns from spreading outside of designated burn units.

The Oregon Department of Forestry’s (ODF) meteorologists nail the forecast much of the time. But wind shifts occasionally push some smoke from prescribed burns into populated areas. However, most agree the tradeoff is well worth it. Some 200,000 acres of forestland undergo prescribed burn treatments annually in the state, and the resulting clean-up of logging debris and excess vegetation greatly reduces the risk of damaging wildfires on those lands during the summer.

The man who heads up ODF’s firefighting program believes that significantly expanding Oregon’s prescribed burning program would improve the wildfire situation.

“I’d like to see the 200,000 acres of annual prescribed burning double,” said Doug Grafe, chief of ODF’s Forest Protection Division. Three severe wildfire seasons in a row, 2013-15, have reinforced his fervor for forest fuel treatments via prescribed fire.

When a wildfire moves into a tree stand that has been previously thinned and excess shrubs and grasses removed, he said, the flames tend to stay on the forest floor. Wildland firefighters are able to attack a ground fire directly. But when a wildfire ignites in a stand where the trees are close together and brush is thick, it will likely move into the crowns and race through the stand. Direct attack is dangerous in this scenario, so fire managers must resort to air tankers and helicopters – effective, but costly tools.

The high intensity of a wildfire burning in a fuel-rich forest often does long-term damage, wiping out entire tree stands and in some instances sterilizing the soil. In contrast, a wildfire in a fire-treated forest typically leaves many of the trees alive.

Prescribed burning is already underway in some parts of Oregon, where the fall weather pattern of cooler temperatures and higher humidity has lowered the risk of a burn escaping control. But in many areas, ODF is holding off on issuing burning permits till the seasonal rains set in. For example, forest landowners in ODF’s Northeast Oregon District have some 10,000 acres of burn piles ready to light whenever they get the go-ahead from the department, likely in early November. The Klamath-Lake District says it will also wait till then before issuing burn permits.

More information about prescribed forest burning and smoke management can be found on the Department of Forestry website.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Fire Prevention Regulations Eased in Wild and Scenic Section of Rogue River

The fire danger level decreased to “high” (yellow) this week in the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue River between Grave Creek and the mouth of Watson Creek. The Wild and Scenic section of the river between Grave Creek and Marial is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and protected from fire by the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Southwest Oregon District. The section of the river from Marial downstream to Watson Creek is managed and protected from fire by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

The following fire prevention restrictions are currently in effect:

  • Smoking is prohibited while traveling, except in boats on the water, and on sand or gravel bars that lie between water and high water marks that are free of vegetation.
  • All travelers are required to carry one shovel and a one-gallon or larger bucket.
  • The use of fireworks is prohibited.
  • Campfires, including cooking fires and warming fires, are prohibited. However, charcoal fires for cooking and built in raised fire pans are allowed on sand or gravel bars that lie between water and high water marks that are free of vegetation. Ashes must be hauled out. Portable cooking stoves using liquefied or bottled fuels may also be used.

For further information about fire restrictions in the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue River, contact:

  • The Oregon Department of Forestry, Grants Pass Unit, (541) 474-3152;
  • The Smullin Visitor Center located at the Rand National Historic Site at (541) 479-3735.
  • The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fire Danger Level in SW Oregon Drops to High Today

The fire danger level on Oregon Department of Forestry-protected lands in Jackson and Josephine counties has been lowered to “high” (yellow) today. The Industrial Fire Precaution Level has also been decreased to level 2 (two).

These regulations affect 1.8 million acres of state, private, county, city and Bureau of Land Management lands protected by ODF’s Southwest Oregon District.

Light rain and cooler temperatures across southwest Oregon have made it possible to ease off on some of the fire prevention regulations. However, very warm and dry weather is expected to return to the region by the weekend.

Restrictions on the public use of chain saws, brush cutters and other power-driven machinery have been relaxed a bit, allowing the use of equipment until 1:00 p.m. Before today, power-driven machinery had to be shut down by 10:00 a.m. Power-driven machinery use may resume after 8:00 p.m.

Other fire prevention regulations currently in effect, and which will remain in effect, include:

  • No debris burning, including piles and debris burned in burn barrels;
  • No fireworks use on forestlands;
  • Exploding targets and tracer ammunition, or any bullet with a pyrotechnic charge in its base, are prohibited;
  • No sky lanterns may be used in wildland and forestland areas.
  • Campfires are allowed only in designated campgrounds. Portable stoves using liquefied or bottled fuels may be used in other locations;
  • Motorized vehicles are allowed only on improved roads;
  • Chain saws may be used until 1:00 p.m. and after 8:00 p.m. Chain saw users must have an ax, a shovel and an 8-oz or larger fire extinguisher at the job site, and a fire watch is required for one hour after the saw is shut down;
  • Mowing of dead or dry grass with power-driven equipment is allowed until 1:00 p.m., and may resume after 8:00 p.m. This restriction does not apply to mowing green lawns, or to equipment used for the commercial culture and harvest of agricultural crops;
  • The cutting, grinding or welding of metal are allowed until 1:00 p.m. and after 8:00 p.m. These activities may only take place at a site cleared of potentially flammable vegetation and other materials, and with a water supply at the job site;
  • Smoking while traveling is allowed only in enclosed vehicles on improved roads;
  • Electric fence controllers must be approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories Inc., or be certified by the Department of Consumer and Business Services, and be installed and used in compliance with the fence controller’s instructions for fire safe operation.

In the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue River between Grave Creek and Marial, charcoal fires may now be used for cooking provided a raised pan is used and conducted only in an area free of vegetation and other flammable material. Ashes must be hauled out.

Under Industrial Fire Precaution Level II:

  • The use of fire in any form is prohibited
  • The use of power saws is prohibited, except at loading sites, between 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
  • The use of cable yarders is prohibited between 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
  • Blasting is prohibited between 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
  • Welding or cutting of metal are prohibited between 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

Additionally, commercial operators on forestlands are required to have fire suppression equipment on site and provide watchman service.

For more information about the Oregon Department of Forestry’s public regulated use regulations, please call or visit the Southwest Oregon District unit office nearest to you:

  • Medford Unit, 5286 Table Rock Rd., Central Point. (541) 664-3328
  • Grants Pass Unit, 5375 Monument Dr., Grants Pass. (541) 474-3152

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Will 1,000 More Acres Burn This Fall?

Don’t be fooled by the cool mornings and shorter days of September. Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) fire officials say that they average more than 200 fires that burn in excess of 1,000 acres across the state each fall. In fact, in the early fall of 2014, the 36 Pit, Yellow Point and Scoggins Creek fires combined burned about 6,500 acres. More than 90 percent of the fires are caused by people during this time of year. To date in 2015, about 900 fires have burned more than 93,500 acres on ODF protected lands.

“People are genuinely surprised when their thought-to-be safe actions result in a fire,” said ODF Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields.

Fields says that fire season remains in effect and generally lasts well into October. Weather forecasts are calling for temperatures in the 90s throughout much of Oregon for the next several days. Open fires remain prohibited on lands protected by ODF including campfires outside of approved campgrounds and the burning of debris. Forest fuels are at their driest after an entire summer of limited rainfall. A season ending event of several days of substantial rainfall, usually well into the fall, will be needed to erase fire danger and lift restrictions.

Other activities restricted during fire season include off road driving where hot exhaust and sparks from mufflers can ignite dry grass; the use of tracer ammunition and exploding targets; and the use of power equipment such as chain saws and lawn mowers cutting dry grass. Check with your local ODF or fire protection association office for specific restrictions or log on to Violators will be cited and fined and, should a fire result, held liable for fire suppression costs.

While many corporate private lands remain closed due to the continued fire danger, hunting season is still open. Hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts must have landowner permission before entering and follow all public fire use restrictions listed above.