Thursday, April 7, 2016

Wildfire Breaks Out on Horse Mtn. in NE Jackson County

A wildfire approximately 7 acres in size is burning through logging slash on Horse Mtn., located in northwestern Jackson County approximately 8 miles west of Shady Cove (33S, 3W, Sec. 24). The logging slash is green and the fire is burning downhill on a NE aspect slope.

Three engines from the Oregon Dept. of Forestry's Medford Unit are on scene, and two more engines have been ordered from ODF's Grants Pass Unit. Two bulldozers, a water tender and a 20-man crew have also been ordered.

The fire is on private forestland and is moving at a moderate rate through the slash. It was reported around 4:00 p.m. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Use Caution When Burning Debris



Preventing summer wildfires and protecting your home often starts in the spring when fire danger is traditionally low and the warm weather lends to working outside. Spring is the perfect time to clean up around the home and discard piles of yard debris safely and effectively. Regardless of the time of year, always use caution if your plans include burning piles of yard debris.

Debris burning is the number one human-caused wildfire, with many fires taking place in the spring and fall. Statewide in 2015, 209 fires caused by debris burning blackened 432 acres and cost more than $630,000 to suppress. One-third of these fires took place before and after fire season.

In Jackson and Josephine counties, escaped debris burning fires in 2015 caused 44 wildfires that burned 113 acres.

The Oregon Department of Forestry urges residents to exercise caution when burning debris and to refer to the following checklist before burning:

  • Seek alternatives to burning, such as chipping or recycling the debris.
  • If you decide to burn the material, call your structural fire department to see if a burning permit is required.
  • Call your county’s air quality office to find out whether open burning is allowed that day. The number in Jackson County is (541) 776-7007. In Josephine County, call (541) 476-9663.
  • Construct the burn pile in an isolated spot so the flames won’t spread to adjacent vegetation. Dig or scrape a fire line around the burn pile. Make sure there are no overhanging branches or powerlines above the burn pile.
  • Keep the burn pile small. Burning a small pile is easier to control than a large one.
  • Have a shovel and water at the burn pile site. If the site can be reached with a garden hose, make sure the hose extends at least 25 feet beyond the pile’s location.
  • Avoid burning during windy conditions. Embers can travel and ignite spot fires nearby.
  • Stay with the fire, wetting down the edges to prevent escape, until it is completely out.
  • Remember, unattended piles can quickly spread out of control. If your debris burn escapes control, call 911 immediately.

This is also the best time of year to make your property wildfire-safe. Be sure and remove all dead leaves and needles from your roof and gutters. Create a defensible space of 30 to 100 feet around your home by clearing brush and moving wood piles. Keep your lawn well irrigated and make sure your driveway is clearly marked and accessible for emergency vehicles and equipment.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Local National Forest Dispatch Center Name Change

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest's Medford Interagency Communications Center (MICC) will officially change its name to the Rogue Valley Interagency Communications Center (RVICC) on April 1, 2016. This date was picked in order to provide adequate time to network the name change prior to fire season.

The objective of the name change is to reduce the likelihood of a serious accident for responding firefighting resources.

The MICC dispatch center, which is staffed by Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employees, is a federal dispatch center located within the Rogue Valley in the city of Medford. The radio call sign has been “Medford Interagency Dispatch” since 2008.

The Oregon Department of Forestry also has a dispatch center located in the adjacent city of Central Point and uses a similar call sign, “Medford Dispatch.” The nearly identical radio call signs of the two centers have been a source of confusion during emergency response, particularly for aircraft. This has resulted in several “near misses” which is basically when a serious accident is narrowly avoided.

In an effort to minimize the chances of a serious accident occurring, the new call sign will be changed to “Rogue Dispatch” to provide a clear distinction between the state and federal dispatch centers.

“Every year after fire season, we hold what is called an “After Action Review” to discuss improvements that we can make to keep our firefighters safe. This change was at the top of our list,” said Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Fire & Aviation Staff Officer Eric Hensel.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Measuring Wildfire Season in Gallons

So, just how severe was Oregon’s wildfire season this summer? About 838,000 gallons’ worth, according to Neal Laugle, the Department of Forestry’s (ODF) aviation unit manager. That’s how much liquid retardant the department’s air tankers dumped on fires in 2015. And that figure doesn’t include the thousands of gallons of straight water dropped by ODF contracted helicopters in close support of ground firefighting forces.

The window of opportunity in which to stop a new blaze from growing large has shrunk from days to hours, due to the extreme summer weather and forest fuel conditions. Fire managers with ODF and the fire associations increasingly rely on air power to even the odds, launching air and ground resources simultaneously, which often shaves response time to minutes.

ODF’s contracted large air tanker can reach a fire quickly and deliver 3,000 gallons of retardant in a single load. This slows fire growth and buys time for fire engines and hand crews to arrive on scene and begin direct attack. Single-engine air tankers (SEATs) use their speed and maneuverability to box in a fire with multiple, smaller retardant drops. All told, air tankers logged more than 700 flight hours this summer. The agency’s helicopters put in 834 hours slinging water to hot spots with their cable-suspended buckets.

Fire aviation snapshot

Statistics currently available are for ODF- and fire association-protected lands west of the Cascades. This summer, most of the aerial firefighting took place east of the Cascades (86 percent), followed by southern Oregon (14 percent), and northwestern Oregon (less than one percent).

  • In 2015, the Douglas Forest Protective Association in Douglas County flew 60 helicopter missions and also assisted ODF’s Southwest Oregon District and the Willamette National Forest. A small plane flew 55 missions that included fire detection, monitoring of existing fires, and guiding air operations (air tankers and helicopters) over fires.
  • The department’s Southwest Oregon District (Jackson and Josephine counties) conducted 150 missions, including air tanker and helicopter flights. Helicopters performed air attack, helitack (insertion of firefighters at fires, along with making water drops) and transport of personnel and cargo.
  • Coos Forest Protective Association logged 55 flight hours on 19 different fires in Coos and Douglas counties to quench the flames with water drops. In addition, CFPA aircraft flew reconnaissance during lightning events to detect new fires.

ODF’s aggressive firefighting tactics can create an “airshow” of multiple tankers and helicopters over an active fire. When the meter is running on all these aircraft, costs mount quickly. But stopping even one high-potential blaze from spreading to thousands of acres can save millions of dollars in the long term.

As an example, the 26,000-acre Stouts Creek Fire in Douglas County cost $37 million to extinguish. And that is just for suppression. Damage to the forest resource, which includes timber as well as fish and wildlife habitats, typically totals at least three times the firefighting expense.

No one can accurately predict the intensity of future fire seasons. But the current trend has the department, its partner resource agencies, and private forest landowners scrambling to meet the challenge. Aviation will undoubtedly continue to play a major role in Oregon’s fire protection system in the years to come.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Funding Available for Ashland-Area Landowners for Wildfire Mitigation and Forest Health Projects

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announces funding available to help private non-industrial forest landowners in the Ashland watershed reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire and improve the overall health of their forests.

Eligible landowners may receive payments from NRCS to implement forestry practices on their land, such as pre-commercial thinning, tree and shrub pruning, slash treatments and more. To be considered for the next round of funding, landowners are encouraged to submit applications by Jan. 15 by contacting the USDA Service Center in Central Point at 89 Alder Street, or by calling 541-664-1070. An additional application cut-off date is set for April 15.

The funding is provided by USDA’s Chiefs’ Joint Landscape Restoration Partnership, an initiative by the chiefs of two USDA agencies—the Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service—to improve the health and resilience of forest ecosystems across public and private boundaries in at-risk communities.

In 2015, NRCS awarded $1.1 million in funding to landowners in the Ashland area to perform pre-commercial thinning, slash treatment and other conservation practices on 1,213 acres of private forest lands. The Forest Service also invested $1.2 million to perform forest stand treatments on adjacent federal lands. The Joint Chiefs funding builds upon the Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project, an ongoing partnership launched in 2010 between the U.S. Forest Service, Lomakatsi Restoration Project, The Nature Conservancy, and The City of Ashland, and is supported by a number of other partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District.

“Jackson County consistently experiences one of the highest occurrences of wildfire in Oregon and has suffered devastating losses to quality of life, property, natural resources, and community infrastructure,” said Erin Kurtz, NRCS District Conservationist for Jackson County. “The Joint Chiefs funding allows us to expand current efforts in our community to reduce wildfire threats and restore ecosystem function in an all-lands approach.”

The Joint Chiefs funding—provided annually over three years—aims to implement fuels reduction activities on 4,200 acres of privately-owned forest land and 4,000 acres of Forest Service land. NRCS will continue to offer financial assistance to eligible private landowners through 2016 and 2017.

NRCS provides payments to landowners through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This is a voluntary financial assistance program in the Farm Bill that allows NRCS to work directly with private landowners to develop conservation plans and reimburse landowners for a portion of the expense. View EQIP eligibility criteria on the Oregon EQIP webpage.

For more information about this and other NRCS financial assistance programs, visit the Oregon NRCS website at www.or.nrcs.usda.gov.

For more information about the Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project, visit the project’s website at: www.ashlandwatershed.org

Monday, December 7, 2015

Committee Looks at State's Future Wildfire Suppression Challenges

Oregon experienced a significant increase in wildfires over the past several years. Not only have these fires increased damages and costs to Oregon’s forests, landowners, and local communities but they have stretched the state’s “complete and coordinated fire protection system.”

Seeking ideas to address these challenges, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) initiated a Fire Program Review Committee. This committee is made up of forest landowners, wildland fire professionals, elected officials, the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office and other stakeholders to advise ODF in its effort to develop and implement a more sustainable fire organization, including large fire funding solutions.

"This review is an effort to inform our long-term strategic view and facilitate improvement of this highly valued and functioning wildland fire protection system," said Kenneth Cummings, Vice Chair of the committee. The committee will focus its efforts on providing recommendations for the 2016 fire season as well as long-term goals for wildfire management and budget development.

The committee began its work Dec. 1 and formed three working groups to help support the committee’s efforts. The Fire Program Review Committee is scheduled to meet again on Jan. 21 to discuss the working group’s findings, refine key issues, capture additional ideas and provide further guidance. Interested parties are welcome to attend.

Additional information about the committee can be found online at: www.oregon.gov/ODF/Board/Pages/FireProgramReview.aspx.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Oregon's Coordinated Wildfire System Pays Dividends in 2015 Fire Season

In 2015, a witches’ brew of drought, hot weather and dry lightning spawned more than 2,000 wildfires across Oregon that consumed some 631,000 acres of forest and rangeland. In a massive coordinated effort, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and its local and federal partners fought back, stopping hundreds of new fire starts at small size and preventing many large blazes from growing into mega-fires.

The state’s wildland fire agencies have long recognized the need to work closely together. Oregon’s forest ownership pattern - a spider web of intermingled public and private lands - demands it. From that understanding developed the concept of a “complete and coordinated system” of fire protection. The U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, ODF and other wildland fire agencies seamlessly respond to wildfires. This approach reduces redundancy of fire suppression forces and provides more thorough coverage.

So, how did the system perform in 2015, the third severe fire season in as many years?

  • ODF Incident management teams deployed eight times to support large fire incidents across the state. These teams worked together with several federal, state and local partners to accomplish common goals.
  • Oregon National Guard supplied several helicopters and flight crews, other equipment and 375 personnel to form 18 fire hand crews.
  • Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office (OSFM) provided three structural fire teams to safeguard homes and other developments. This freed up ODF teams to concentrate on containing the wildfires.
  • Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) provided 330 inmates from 10 institutions to fight fire and support fire camp operations.
  • Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) displayed prevention messages and road-closure information on highway reader boards to inform travelers.
  • Personnel, equipment and aircraft came in from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, 27 states and two Canadian Provinces.
  • The forest landowner community once again pulled together to assist by providing heavy equipment, skilled tree fellers and intermediate fire management.
  • Private contractors provided 20-person firefighting hand crews for 165 fires in five states, working more than 8,500 crew-days.

Ron Graham, deputy chief of ODF’s Forest Protection Division, said, “A majority of the help came from companies, agencies and individuals whose primary jobs and duties are not fire emergency-related. Through coordination and training, ODF was able to use their unique skills, abilities and knowledge to fill critical fire positions.”

He extended thanks to all ODF staff as well as the agency’s many partners in the complete and coordinated system, along with their families, and to all Oregonians for their contribution to the 2015 firefighting effort.