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Last update: Sat., July 19th, 2014
ALERT: The posted fire danger level for the Southwest Oregon District is now "EXTREME" (RED) as of 12:01 am today, Sat., July 19th, as announced by the ODF yesterday.
New curfew hours for publicly regulated activities are now in effect during the daytime, starting at 10:00 AM until 8:00 PM. Details.
Fire season, declared by the ODF, began June 2nd; the fire danger level increased to "High" (yellow) on June 16th, and has increased to "Extreme" (red) on July 19th. For more on the fire season outlook, see below.
All current information and updates throughout the fire season are always posted on our Current Fire Restrictions page.
CRFD’s 2014 Annual Community PICNIC – BBQ:
DATE: Sunday, September 14th, 2014 - Save the Date!
TIME: approx. 12 Noon to 2 pm.
PLACE: The Hilt Church (inside & outside - rain or shine)
This is a lunch-barbeque event (lots of great food!). Beverages (non-alcoholic only) and food are complimentary to all local residents within our community and to our District friends from CalFire and other agencies.
The Marins will be grilling hamburgers and hot dogs on the barbeque for us again this year; salad, corn on the cob, beans, and other favorite foods will be available, with plenty of ice-cold sodas and water, and of course, cake (chocolate and white) for desert.
FUNDRAISING T-SHIRTS will also be on sale. (For more info & shirt images, see our Fundraising page.)
CRFD's Chief Medical Officer, Karen Dwyer, R.N., will be hosting her community health information table at the request of the Board, where interested individuals can get their blood pressure checked and can pick up various other health-related information pamphlets.
Come meet your local fire district volunteers, learn more about what we do, see some of the equipment that we use to protect your homes and families, hear about district developments, meet our district’s Cal-Fire friends, and visit with your neighbors – mark your calendars now, and see you there!!
Ongoing FREE 10-MINUTE HANDS-ONLY CPR TRAINING: If you missed the opportunity to get trained in Hands-Only CPR at last year's district picnic, you still can. Learn more.
UPDATE: The Colestin/Hilt Emergency Preparedness Plan Leadership Group held its first meeting on Sat., January 18th. Our newly launched Emergency Preparedness Plan Project is in recognition of the increasing need to be able to effectively respond to significant emergency events here in our valley, and to provide help and leadership through the District to our residents. Learn more about our Emergency Preparedness Plan Project on our new page dedicated to developing our emergency preparedness resources.
REMINDER: Don't forget that Board meetings have been moved to Tuesdays. The next meeting is Tuesday, Aug. 12th, at 6 PM. More.
Key indicators at this point for the fire season ahead are not looking good.
Weather systems and snowpack levels this past winter and spring remained unpredictable; the lack of any definable, typical El Nino or La Nina weather pattern out in the Pacific during the fall of 2013 and the winter of 2013-14 was dubbed "La Nada" (The Nothing) by one meteorologist.
Since then, while spring precipitation has helped lessen the difference between actual and average figures, precipitation levels as measured at the airport in the Rogue Valley are still down by about 2.5 inches. (17 inches is considered normal; the water year total to date is only just over 14.5.)
Overall, the dry end to 2013, the very dry January and less-than-average precipitation since, and the lack of any significant snowpack throughout the past wet season are not auspicious for the months ahead.
Even back in January, separate NOAA NWS models were showing that already-existing drought conditions throughout much of California for the last several years and that stretched just into Oregon last year have extended further north and now cover much of the lower third of the state, blanketing southern Oregon with dark brown, the color code for "drought" designation.
As precipitation levels in the Rogue Valley remained below average, on March 19th the Jackson County commissioners declared "a local drought disaster," and at the County's request, Oregon's Gov. John Kitzhaber on May 7th declared a drought emergency in Jackson County, allowing relief funds to be accessed by farmers, ranchers, and related agricultural interests.
The Mail Tribune's article covering the drought declaration also stated that "Snowpack in the Rogue Basin is at 31 percent of average, according to recent U.S. Department of Agriculture reports. // "Eight snow monitoring sites in the basin have set new record lows, including three sites on Mt. Ashland," where the Mt. Ashland Ski park "failed to open for the winter because of a lack of snow." (For more, see the article link below.)
On May 30th, the ODF's bulletin announcing the start of fire season also acknowledged that: "A dry winter has left dead vegetation (fallen trees and branches, leaves and litter, etc.) unusually low on moisture content. The extended forecast for summer in southwest Oregon predicts hotter and drier than normal conditions, increasing the likelihood of wildfires starting easily and increasing in size faster."
More information about the start of this year's fire season and the area's available resources is included in the Mail Tribune's article on Sat. May 31, 2014, titled "A jump on fire season." The MT's excerpt states: "Monday's start of the summer wildfire season is southwest Oregon's earliest in two decades and brings similar wildland conditions that helped make last year the worst here in more than a decade."
Numerous local news stories over the last 6 months have also underscored the potential direction that this fire season may be headed in (see below).
It is instructive to remember that the Colestin Fire occurred in 1981, one of the four years mentioned below as "years with low snowpack" when "dry conditions persisted through the winter," resulting in "extreme" fire danger conditions earlier than usual that fire season.
The Colestin Fire began during dry, intensely hot weather, on the heels of four consecutive days of triple-digit 110-degree and over temperatures, on Monday, August 10th, around 12:30 pm just as the day was about to reach its peak heat, in the inhabited, densely forested heart of the valley.
Sparks from young children playing with matches in the yard of a home along Colestin Road near what was then the historic Colestin Stage Stop Hotel, owned by the Avgeris family, ignited the underbrush and rapidly involved the tinder-dry forest.
Driven by highly erratic, shifting winds that afternoon through the steep, rugged terrain, the fire grew to hundreds of acres within a mere handful of hours.
Firefighting efforts by the five fire agencies that responded from outside of the area assisted by the CCC and two other hot-shot crews were severely challenged by the fire's crazy path as it changed directions numerous times, at one point almost reaching Mt. Ashland Road.
Ultimately, while no lives were lost and only three minor structures were consumed, over 540 acres burned (some accounts say over 700 acres), including two million board feet of timber; damage to the local watershed was also extensive. Altogether, the Colestin Fire took more than 700 firefighters and three days to contain; firefighting costs topped $1 million.
At the same time that season, at temperatures of over 100 degrees in some areas and also in bone-dry conditions, a dozen other major fires burned an estimated total of 47,000 acres in four western states; later that same week alone, new lightning-caused fires scorched approximately 20,000 more acres across Oregon.
The one major difference between 1981 and the present is the existence of a local fire agency with trained local firefighters and local firefighting resources and the fire safety consciousness and prevention measures of our community and residents.
This may be a fire season when these qualities are not only more important than ever, but a year when earlier, more extreme conditions leave us no other choice: either we must be pro-active, or we may have to pay the price, however high, for not doing all that we are each able to do ahead of time.
"Our opinion: Medford's abundant water supplies insulate residents from the effects of drought," Mail Tribune, Fri., May 9, 2014, in Opinion. The MT's excerpt: "Don't let this week's gloomy skies and spring showers fool you: Southern Oregon is facing its driest summer on record. The governor's declaration of a drought emergency Wednesday, and the U.S...."
" 'Grim' winter leads to drought," Mail Tribune, Thurs. May 8, 2014, in News. The MT's excerpt: "Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a drought emergency in Jackson County Wednesday in preparation for water shortages and low stream flows caused by the worst snowpack on record."
"Jackson County declares drought disaster," Mail Tribune, Thurs. March 20, 2014 - front page, top. The MT's excerpt: "Snowpack in the Rogue Basin is at 31 percent of average, according to recent U.S. Department of Agriculture reports. // "Eight snow monitoring sites in the basin have set new record lows, including three sites on Mt. Ashland. // "The Mt. Ashland Ski Area, which failed to open for the winter because of a lack of snow, has been hard hit..."
"Government may alter funding to fight wildfires (Federal proposal could free up natural disaster funds)," by the AP, Boise, Idaho, carried in the Mail Tribune, Tues., March 18, 2014, pg. 2A. An excerpt: "A bipartisan effort underway in Congress would change the way the country pays to fight catastrophic wildfires, tapping natural disaster funds instead of money intended for fire prevention, lawmakers from Oregon and Idaho said Monday. // ... // "[Interior Secretary Sally] Jewell noted that in 2013, the fire suppression budget was exceeded by $500 million, with that money coming from fire restoration and prevention funds. Firefighting costs have exceeded their budget in eight of the past 10 years. // ... // "Experts at the National Interagency Fire Center predicted a busy wildfire season in Southern California, New Mexico and Arizona this year, expanding into Northern California and southern Oregon later in the year. // " ' Fires are now often bigger and hotter and last longer,' [Oregon Democratic Senator Ron] Wyden said, in part because of the frequent 'robbery' of fire restoration funds for firefighting efforts...' "
"Area may endure summer drought (Regional watersheds are at 30 percent of average snowpack)," Mail Tribune, Mon. March 10, 2014, pg. 1A, top. An excerpt: "One pineapple express after another bringing warm rain across Oregon has helped boost reservoirs west of the Cascades and snowpacks in the northern mountains. // "But U.S. Natural Resources Conservation hydrologist Julie Koeberle says much of Oregon is still looking at water shortages this summer, particularly in the parched southern tier of the state."
"Mt. Ashland Ski Area weighs options for season pass holders," Mail Tribune, Mon., March 10, 2014, p. 1A, top. The MT's excerpt: " Mt. Ashland Ski Area officials said they will announce by Friday what they will do for skiers and snowboarders who purchased season passes that they were never able to use this winter."
"Storms may not relieve Northwest water worries (Northeast Oregon has the best snowpack at around 70 percent)," Mail Tribune, Sat., February 8, 2014, page 2A. An excerpt: "The rain and snow falling across Oregon are far from enough to break the drought. // "Snowpack levels across most of the state Friday were less than half of normal, and the drought index was still severe to moderate. // "National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Sandler says it will take near-record rain and snow for the next three months to get things back to normal."
"How dry is it? (Wetter, seasonal weather still not on immediate horizon)," Mail Tribune, Sat., February 1, 2014, pg. 1A, top. An excerpt: "Southern Oregon's snowpack is the slimmest in Oregon — barely one-fifth of average — and no drought-busting storms are in the immediate future, meteorologists say. // "Snowpack in the Rogue and Umpqua basins are at 21 percent of average, tying the Klamath Basin for the worst in the state."
"Wildfires spring up from dry weather pattern," Mail Tribune, Sat. Jan. 25th, 2014, Page 1A. "Federal and state forestry crews battled two unusually early wildfires Friday that were sparked in logging debris at opposite ends of Jackson County. // "Crews from the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry worked to contain the Alder Creek fire outside Shady Cove, which started at about 2 p.m. Thursday and had grown to 125 acres by Friday. In Ashland, an 8-acre fire was doused near a fuels-reduction burn pile near the Horn Gap trailhead. // " 'These were piles (of logging debris) lit in early December and late November,' said Grayback Forestry President Mike Wheelock, who sent firefighting crews to both fires. 'It's quite unusual this time of year to have a holdover that long. It's a sign of the drought conditions we've had.' " As of Friday morning, a containment time was not known for the Shady Cove fire. Other fires burning Friday in Oregon included the Coos district 300-acre Bone Mountain fire and the 40-acre Camas Creek fire; the 50-acre Falcon fire and the 30-acre Shingle Mill fire in the Astoria district; and "five fires between 1 and 200 acres" in the North Cascade district.
"Wind, drought prompt fire danger warnings," The Associated Press carried in the Mail Tribune, Friday, Jan. 24th, 2014, Page 1A. "Oregon's rainy reputation is being tested, as dry grass and brush have prompted unprecedented red flag fire warnings in the southwestern corner of the state - a situation normally reserved for late summer." ... "The warnings cover Josephine, Jackson, Curry, Coos and Douglas counties, and extend south into California as far as the San Francisco Bay." ... "The red flag warnings apply to the sunny slopes and ridges above the fog, at about 2,500 feet, where temperatures can be in the 50s and winds can gust to 30 mph." ... "Brian Ballou, fire prevention specialist for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said state and federal agencies normally conduct prescribed burns in the forests at this time of year to reduce fire danger in the summer.// "But the weather has ended the burns, he said.// " 'It's just not a time to be doing any kind of burning,' he said." ... "A high pressure ridge stuck off the coast continues to block storms, starving ski resorts, reservoirs and forests of snow and rain. Mt. Ashland Ski Area has yet to open for the year.// "The U.S. Drought Monitor puts nearly all of Oregon in severe drought..."
"NWS warns that region faces wildfire threat: Gusty winds, low humidity in the forecast; 'It's more of a summertime' phenomenon" - Mail Tribune, Wed. Jan. 22, 2014, Page 1A. "Facing a severe lack of moisture and expecting strong, gusty winds, the National Weather Service has issued a fire weather watch for Thursday evening through Friday morning across southwestern Oregon. The watch, issued Tuesday, warns the greatest danger for 'rapid fire growth' will occur above 3,500 feet, but the advisory touches portions of the Rogue Valley floor, said Shad Keene, meteorologist with the weather service in Medford." ... " 'This is for the gusty winds and the low humidity in combination with the very dry fuels. The forest is dry. If there was a fire sparked, our primary concern is the potential for rapid fire growth,' Keene said. 'We may have had these types of winds already this winter, but it wasn't as dry. It's been such a long time since we've seen a lot of rain and we're expecting it to stay dry.' " ... "ODF spokesman Brian Ballou said he expects a busy fire season if winter weather continues its current course. 'People just need to be cautious with any open flame. It's one of those years where you have to be cautious with anything outdoors,' Ballou said. 'It's already really dry out there.' "
"Drought may make for a fiery California winter: 150 wildfires so far in January; the average is only 25," Los Angeles Times carried in the Mail Tribune, Mon. Jan. 20th, 2014, Page 2A. "California is bracing for what officials fear could be an unprecedented winter fire season fueled by record dry conditions that show no signs of letting up." ... " 'It really is unprecedented. In my career, I've not seen this level,' Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said. 'It's the first (weeks) of January and we're seeing conditions that would normally be occurring in midsummer. That's what we're up against.' " ... "William Patzert, a climatologist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, said California's historically wet months of February, March and April look bone-dry, and that is going to heighten the fire danger." ... "Patzert said this season's parched conditions are part of a longer-term weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation..." that was, for almost two decades until the mid-1990s in a 'positive' phase "that brought pockets of plentiful rain to California and Oregon," but that "more recently, the oscillation has trended toward a 'negative' phase that's pushed the wet climate north and east of California." ... " 'We don't really understand why the (change) happens ... but what we do know is that once it happens, it's persistent.' "
"DRY, BUT NO DROUGHT - YET: Recent rains helped, but region remains near historic lows in precipitation, making experts wary," Mail Tribune, Sun., Jan. 12th, 2014, Page 1A Headline news. An in-depth look that reinforces the information in the previous articles, with details on snowpack, rainfall and reservoir totals thus far. A few highlights: "Crater Lake, normally covered by 70-plus inches of snow at this point in the year, reported about 9 inches at midweek. That followed a snowfall of about 5 inches. On Tuesday morning, the 4 inches at the park's weather station was the least since record-keeping began in 1931. // The thin layer covering the Mt. Ashland Ski Area has kept the ski lifts closed and prompted Mt. Ashland officials to hold a 'Pray For Snow' event Saturday. // ... A report released by NRCS last week said snowpack was at 32 percent of the normal levels statewide as of Jan. 1." The article concludes that: "Despite the bleak outlook, water officials say it's too early to panic. // Data from past years show sudden turnarounds can happen, that it only takes one big storm to turn an otherwise dry year wet... 'This February and March will need to have above-average snow accumulation if the 2014 snowpack is to rise above the lowest snow levels on record,' the NRCS report reads." Ultimately, everything depends on what occurs by April 30th. January is expected to stay mostly dry, however, so the burden lies with February and March to turn this scary situation around. Otherwise, we will be using the "D" word big-time.
"Water rationing challenges Rogue River residents (Neighbors in local trailer park are feeling the effects of a dry year)," Mail Tribune, Mon., January 6, 2014, pg. 3A. An excerpt: "After the big snow of Dec. 6, Rogue River Mobile Estates was higher and drier than ever. // "Pipes burst in the freeze that followed... / "The snow did little to relieve the driest year in Jackson County history, according to the National Weather Service."
"Dry year for Oregon, Washington - Snowpack suffers; one meteorologist predicts a warm summer ahead," by the AP and carried in the Mail Tribune, Thurs., January 2, 2014, Page 2A, spells out plainly the writing on the wall: "Snowpack levels across much of Oregon are below normal levels, following a year that was also the driest on record in Eugene-Springfield. // "National Weather Service meteorologist Colby Neuman in Portland said that the entire West Coast is dry. // "The U.S. Drought Monitor, released Dec. 26, showed abnormally dry to drought conditions across Oregon and abnormally dry conditions across much of Washington. Drought conditions were shown in other Western states, too. // "...Most Oregon counties are seeing snowpack levels of less than 50 percent of average." In addition, the article continues, some of the snow received earlier in the season has more recently melted, due to warmer temperatures, diminishing the existing snowpack. However, it is still January - so, where does this leave us? "Neuman told the Register-Guard," the article goes on, "there is time to rebound from the abnormally dry conditions in the next few months. But if that doesn't happen, he said that could create concerns for water supplies, plants and an early fire season. // "He noted four recent years with low snowpack - 1981, 1990, 1996 and 2005. In 1981 and 2005, dry conditions persisted through the winter, while heavy snowfall fell in the second half [of the] winter seasons in 1990 and 1996." The article concludes: "National Weather Service meteorologist Clinton Rockey of Portland said the second half of winter and spring are tough to predict. However, he said based on past weather patterns and ocean cycles, he can estimate the summer will be warmer than usual."
"Medford logs 2013 as its driest year since recordkeeping began," Wed., January 1, 2014, Mail Tribune, Page 4A, further reaffirmed the above reports: "...2013 turned out to be the driest year on record for Medford, Roseburg, Klamath Falls and the city of Mt. Shasta, Calif." The final total rainfall amount for the year for Medford was 8.99, not even half of the typical annual total of 18.25 inches. Klamath Falls broke its previous recorded low also set in 1959 by more than one inch; Roseburg surpassed its record set in 1944 by about seven inches; and Mt. Shasta broke its record from 1976 by more than four inches. The article also notes that, according to the NWS, December, 2013, was the coldest December ever recorded in Medford, with an average temperature of 31 degrees, just breaking the previous record set in 1972.
"2013: A look back" ("A glance at the top 13 stories as voted by the Mail Tribune newsroom staff"), Tues., December 31, 2013, Page 1A, headline story, confirmed the Dec. 20th MT report: Top story #2 states that "Medford experienced its driest calendar year on record : 8.99 inches of rain recorded..." (of the average annual total of 18.35 inches), which broke the previous record set in 1959, since recording began in 1911. (The arson fires in Medford ranked at top story #1, and the late- July dry lightning-caused fires ("80 fires") in southwestern Oregon including the five major fires that filled the Rogue Valley with unhealthy levels of smoke for much of August ranked at top story #3.)
"Dry Run: Recent storm aside, Medford well on its way to record-low precipitation," Mail Tribune, Fri. Dec. 20, 2013, Page 1A, headline story. Key points: 2013 is likely to be the driest year on record: Average annual rain is 18.35 inches as measured by the NWS in Medford, but 2013's total by Dec. 20th was only 8.97 inches, a new record low, originally set in 1959, which had almost as low a total at 10.43 inches. "Most Oregon municipalities are flirting with similar low-rainfall calendar years, in part because a dry fall has been followed by a cold and dry November and December that saw record lows in places such as Eugene and Lakeview." According to Steve Pierce, a "Pacific Northwest weather expert" interviewed for the article, the lack of moisture has been caused by normal tropical ocean temperatures that don't generate the La Nina or El Nino weather patterns that higher or lower tropical ocean temperatures do. The result is that "high-pressure systems instead have built along the Eastern Pacific, shutting off the jet stream and forcing arctic air masses that have left the region very cold and relatively dry." He further notes that "This is the most significant arctic outbreak since 1990." [That year is also remembered for its low early winter snowpack levels and the hot, dangerously dry fire season that followed.]
FYI: Greyback Forestry, Inc., contracted by the Lomakatsi Restoration Project in partnership with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, conducted low-intensity prescribed fire controlled burns through March, 2014, on private lands within our district (ONLY when it was considered safe to do so).
Low-intensity prescribed fire controlled burns are by arrangement with participating residents as part of a program to reduce woodland fuel loads through density thinning and slash treatments and to restore oak habitat.
For questions or more information, please contact the Lomakatsi Restoration Project at email@example.com or call 541-488-0208.
You can also learn more online at lomakatsi.org. (Note the mention of the Colestin burn on Nov. 1st, 2013,on the Lomakatsi home page under "News & Events" and the link to details of the work in the Colestin area with photos at lomakatsi.org/prescribed-fire-colestin-11-1-13/ .)
See Lomakatsi's updated flyer, "Colestin Valley Prescribed Hand Pile Burn Notification, Potential Operation Dates: November 2013 through March 2014" (pdf format).
See Lomakatsi's Nov. 2013 flyer, "Colestin Valley Prescribed Fire Notification," Nov. 1 - 18, 2013, as posted on CRFD's fire danger sign structure on lower Colestin Rd. (jpg image; allow approx. 30 seconds to load).
Previous 2013 bulletins:
Smoke significantly affected our breathing air for much of the summer of 2013.
Due to increased health hazards related to smoke, the following information was provided by our Chief Medical Officer, Karen Dwyer:
Lung Association offers helpful information in its "Forest
Fires and Respiratory Health Fact Sheet" on its website
* Reduce the amount of time spent outdoors. This can usually provide some protection, especially in a tightly closed, air-conditioned house in which the air conditioner can be set to re-circulate air instead of bringing in outdoor air.
* Reduce the amount of time engaged in vigorous outdoor physical activity. This can be an important and effective strategy to decrease exposure to inhaled air pollutants and minimize health risks during a smoke event.
* Drink plenty of water or other non-alcohol or decaffeinated fluids.
* Reduce other sources of indoor air pollution such as burning cigarettes and candles; using gas, propane, and wood burning stoves and furnaces; cooking; and vacuuming.
* Individuals with heart disease or lung diseases such as asthma should follow their health care providers’ advice about prevention and treatment of these diseases.
Our hearts are with all of those grieving the loss of the 19 Granite Mountain hotshot firefighters of Prescott, Arizona, killed on Sunday, June 30th, in the Yarnell Hill Fire near the central AZ town of Yarnell (northwest of Phoenix).
The fire, initially sparked by lightning on Friday, June 28th, blazed out of control in triple-digit temperatures and erratic, gusty, hot winds under the state's long-term drought conditions. By Sunday, under the intense peak heat of the day, an unanticipated major wind shift from the southeast caused the fire to blow up to an estimated 2,000 acres. The 19 hotshot crew members, trapped with no escape and overtaken, deployed emergency fire shelters as a last-resort measure; tragically, there was insufficient time, and the heat was far too unendurable, for survival. The Yarnell Hill Fire of nearly 9,000 total acres within mere days is now the deadliest wildfire for firefighters in the U.S. in 80 years.
The CRFD stands in unity with Prescott, its fire department, and its community in the wake of this horrific event. We solemnly observe, salute, and honor the courage and bravery of the 19 members of the hot shot crew and their ultimate sacrifice.
For current information and crew member particulars, see CNN's news page.
"The future of wildfire, and of hotshot firefighting" - 8/3/13
The above-titled editorial by Bob Sipchen was carried in the Mail Tribune (Medford, OR) on Saturday, August 3rd, 2013, and was originally published by the Los Angeles Times on Sun. July 28th. A brief excerpt follows:
". . . I knew that for the firefighters, at least one thing that has been offered up as consolation is rooted in truth: They did die doing what they loved, and part of what they loved was the danger.
"I've come to doubt, however, another often-voiced cliche: 'They understood the risks.'
"A federal study released this year joins a growing body of literature connecting the frequency and intensity of wildfires worldwide to the global climate disruption that we have created by living lives dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. The Granite Mountain Hotshots may well have known about this connection. I'm confident that neither hotshots nor anyone else yet has a clue what it all means for the future of computer-modeled firefighting strategy, let alone about the multitude of life-or-death judgment calls firefighters make in any given wildfire."
"Warning: 'These huge fires are the new normal' - AP, 7/6/13
For those who missed the above article published by the Mail Tribune (Medford, OR) on July 6th, 2013, a few excerpted bits follow:
"More heat, more drought, more fuel and more people in the way are adding up to increasingly ferocious fires...
"While no single wildfire can be pinned solely on climate change, researchers say there are signs that fires are becoming bigger and more common in an increasingly hot and bonedry West...
Wildfires are chewing through twice as many acres per year on average in the United States compared with 40 years ago...
" 'These huge fires are the new normal,' said John Glenn, chief of fire operations for the federal Bureau of Land Management. 'Look at any touchstone - global warming, fuels, invasive species, forest and rangeland health issues - and then you throw in the urban interface. It's almost like this perfect mix. What used to be the anomaly is almost like the normal now.' "
Wildland Fire Risk Potential for 2013:
Key indicators show that this is a hotter, drier, and potentially very difficult fire season: Earlier this season, the ODF attributed the fire danger increase to HIGH to “a historically dry spring and an abrupt onset of summer weather” with “continued hot and dry weather outlooks . . . Wild land fire starts are about 30% higher this year than compared to last year. . .”
The US Forest Service has released a map of the Wildland Fire Risk Potential for 2013 with the areas of greatest risk in color-coded format. It can be viewed on the NFPA's (National Fire Protection Assn.) site blog at: http://wildfire.blog.nfpa.org/oregon/.
Extensive portions of California, particularly much of the northern California region, as well as southwestern Oregon, much of Idaho and eastern Nevada, and western Utah are in the 4 percent red "Very High" risk zone, intermingled with the 8 percent "High" risk potential zone. (Scroll down the page about one-third.) This site also has lots of other timely news and useful wildland and other fire safety information, including a graphically depicted "sweet spot" zone for wildland rural-interface residents when taking wildfire risk factors into consideration - well worth checking out.
Also of note:
“Southwest Oregon... has near-historic low levels of snowpack and vegetation fuel moistures. Even though recent rainstorms have helped to forestall the start of fire season, the moisture wasn’t enough to reverse the long-term drying trend” (see 5/30/13, www.swofire.com).
"State predicts hotter, drier summer than most":
Paul Fattig's article in the Thurs. April 11, 2013, edition of the (Medford) Mail Tribune tells us what we already know or intuit:
ODF's Brian Ballou is quoted: "The forecast is for a much drier summer than we have been in for the last few years... We will likely have an earlier fire season than we have had for a while."
Lightning is expected to be a wild card as far as large fires go, but the potential for fire in general will be greater than normal: "The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, the nation's support center for wildland firefighting, predicts that significant fire potential will increase to above normal for the Northwest and Northern California in June and July."
Locally, despite a good start last fall on the water year since September 1st that has left us with an above-average level to date, early 2013 reflects more of the El Niño pattern anticipated this past winter, with the result that "the first three months of the year were the driest on record," surpassing the record for this period set in 1992.
The ODF and the U.S. Forest Service are already preparing for a potentially active fire season: "ODF will have a fire-retardant bomber stationed at the Medford airport again this fire season, Ballou said. Helicopters will be based also in Medford and Merlin" and other firefighting resources will be available "at the same levels as last year."
However, lightning notwithstanding, the ODF is emphasizing prevention before these resources become necessary. In particular, "residents in rural areas" need to take action now, ahead of fire season, to "reduce grass, weeds and brush around structures to decrease the threat should a wildfire come their way this summer."
You can (and should) read the article in its entirety on the Mail Tribune's website at:
or copy & paste the following link into your browser:
(The Mail Tribune's website allows non-subscribers access to 3 articles per month.)
Late February 2013 readings at Mt. Ashland sites show below-normal snowpack and water content levels:
Paul Fattig's February 28th, 2013, article headline in the Mail Tribune states that "February snowpack readings show drop at upper elevations: But some mid-elevation sites are above normal":
"U.S. Forest Service snow ranger Steve Johnson's snow-survey trek up Mount Ashland on Wednesday revealed above-normal snow at the lower elevation site but below-normal amounts for the three higher-elevation snow survey areas for the end of February.
"...the snow level at the Siskiyou Summit site, 4,600 feet above sea level, was 143 percent of normal with the snow at 27 inches. The all-important water content, reflecting how much moisture is available in the snowpack for summer stream flows and irrigation, is 8.7 inches, or 161 percent of normal.
However, "Johnson found only 48 inches of snow at the Ski Bowl Road site, at 6,000 feet elevation on Mount Ashland, for 75 percent of normal. The snow water content was 16 inches, or 76 percent of normal.
"At the 6,500-foot level, the Mount Ashland Switchback site had 64 inches of snow, which is 80 percent of average. The water content was 23.8 inches, making it 86 percent of normal.
"The Caliban II site, also at 6,500 feet, contained 64 inches of snow for 86 percent of normal. The water content at that site was 23.8 inches, or 94 percent of normal."
For the full article, see February snowpack readings show drop at upper elevations. (The Mail Tribune's website allows non-subscribers access to 3 articles per month.)
The Spring, 2013, Firebrand:
The Fri. April 26th, 2013, edition of the Mail Tribune contained (the) "Firebrand," a small newspaper insert with some great fire prevention information. This edition has really useful, timely articles:
In case you missed it, you can check it out on the RVFPC website at http://www.rvfpc.com. (Look under the right-hand navigation column, & scroll down to "Firebrand Newsletter").
A printed copy is also available upon request by:
The Firebrand is published by the Rogue Valley Fire Prevention Cooperative, a non-profit group of fire prevention organizations based in southern Oregon, and "supports the mission of the RVFPC, and the outreach and education action items in the Jackson County Integrated Fire Plan... [a]rticles also highlight projects that protect homes and wildlands from wildfire, and promote healthy, productive wildland environments. // The Firebrand also supports emergency preparedness for families, pets and livestock, and provides information about preventing fires inside the home."
For those who may have missed it, check out this commentary on defensible
space as a crucial strategy for lessening your vulnerability in a
What would you do in a fire emergency? Your local fire district has a plan. Check it out on our Colestin-Hilt Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) page.
During lightning storms, we rely heavily on the Soda Mountain fire lookout, staffed for the past 24 years by Ken Struck and his wife. Situated twelve miles east of Ashland and over 6,000 feet high, with a bird's-eye view of our district, Ken watches storms, and tracks lightning hits, smoke, and new fire starts using binoculars and a firefinder to pinpoint the exact locations.
Soda Mountain is one of ODF's two last full-time manned fire lookouts in the Southwest Oregon District, as people are replaced by technology at fire lookout stations. Paul Fattig's article in the Medford Mail Tribune is a tribute to Ken and the work he does, as well as an interesting history of the Soda Mountain lookout station.
We in the Colestin-Hilt district continue to greatly appreciate Ken's watchful presence and long-experienced, knowledgeable assistance from Soda Mountain, particularly during lightning storms, and in general, throughout each fire season.
Read Paul Fattig's article " Fire-watcher era nears end: With cameras increasingly replacing human lookouts, Ken Struck, who mans the Soda Mountain station, is among the last of a rare breed." Originally published on Wed. July 28th, 2010, in the Medford Mail Tribune; available online at: http://www.mailtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100728/NEWS/7280319.
Will you be doing any landscaping on your property? Check out the OSU Extension Service's brochure, "Fire-Resistant Plants for Oregon Home Landscapes," available online, and from Jackson County's OSU partnership office, the Southern Oregon Research & Extension Center (SOREC), at 569 Hanley Road, Central Point OR 97503; Phone: (541) 776-7371 Fax: (541) 773-7373; Office Hours: Monday-Friday 8:00 am - 5:00 pm.
HELP WITH FUEL REDUCTION
Planned Community Wildfire Meetings are part of countywide wildfire protection. Discussion topics include information you need to live safely in wildfire country, the fire planning process, how your neighborhood can be more wildfire safe, and meeting your local fire service providers. Representatives from local Jackson County Fire Districts, Oregon Department of Forestry, Rogue River/Siskiyou National Forest, and Medford BLM attend these meetings.
For information about any currently planned community meetings, contact:
Randy Iverson, Fire Chief Jackson County Fire District #3 (541) 826-7100
Brian Ballou, Fire Prevention Specialist, Oregon Dept. of Forestry (541) 664-3328
Neil Benson, Jackson County Integrated Fire Plan (541) 482-4682
Chris Chambers, Wildfire Fuels Reduction Coordinator, Ashland Fire & Rescue (541) 552-206
ODF's September, 2005, News bulletin as a pdf file.
(This requires Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0 or higher, FREE if you need to download it.)
The WEST WIDE ENERGY CORRIDOR DPEIS [Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement]:
UPDATE: In August, 2008, the BLM's Medford district office published a "Record of Decision and Resource Management Plan" for the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument which includes information indicating that the energy corridor under discussion has been sited near the Klamath area and to the east of Ashland instead of running through our valley. Copies of this document are available from the BLM at its Medford District Office, 3040 Biddle Rd., Medford, OR., 97504.
The following concerns CRFD's position on the federal West-wide Energy Corridor DPEIS (Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement), concerning the 3,500-foot wide power corridor that could have run directly through our district. The public comment period on the draft plans ended on February 14th, 2008.
At the January, 2008, Board meeting, Lisa [Buttrey] provided the Board with background information and maps, pointed out issues of concern, and suggested talking points about this project.
The law allowing for the creation of this project was passed in 2005; the plan itself was released in mid-November of 2007. The plan is to have a 2/3rds-mile-wide pipeline/power-line corridor in the Valley. A number of these corridors are proposed throughout the west to handle the power sources (propane, gas, etc.) that is needed to keep up with increasing fuel needs in the country.
After discussion at the January meeting, the Board took the position that this area is not the best to locate this project. Not only are there environmental and geological concerns, but also the financial costs of going through the Siskiyou Mountains would be astronomical. Areas of eastern Oregon, which are flat and uninhabited, would be a far better place to locate the project.
The Board passed a motion directing the fire district, as the local agency, to send a letter outlining these concerns, as the project is currently proposed. Peggy Moore, as the Board Chair, was appointed to write the letter on behalf of the District.
The CRFD's letter in response to the West Wide Energy Corridor DPEIS follows:
January 20, 2008
West-wide Energy Corridor D[P]EIS
9700 S Cass Avenue – Bldg 900, Mail Stop 4
Argonne, IL 60439
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At our January 18th Board of Directors meeting, we passed a unanimous motion to provide written comments on the proposed Corridor (#4-247) through the Siskiyou Crest from Oregon into California. As the fire protection agency that is responsible for this area (for both fire and emergency medical) we STRONGLY oppose locating the corridor in this area.
There are a variety of reasons for our concerns but we believe the environmental, geological and financial arguments are the most salient and deserve your focused attention.
. The Colestin Valley and Siskiyou Pass area are well known as unstable in terms of their geology. Siskiyou literally means “moving mountain”. Slumps, shifts and collapses are fairly frequent in the area. As a result of one of these natural occurrences the Colestin Valley must now employ a receiver to rebroadcast telephone signals because the cable was rendered unusable by earth movement along its route.
. Interstate 5 is a vital transportation highway from Mexico to Alaska. Many of the trucks using this route on a daily basis carry toxic wastes, including nuclear waste. In addition, essential supplies of all kinds are hauled on this route day and night. Accidents happen frequently, sometimes closing the highway or rending one lane or another impassable.
. This particular stretch along Interste 5 (proposed corridor #4-247) is the longest stretch of 6% grade on the interstate system. Along with instability and bottleneck problems, the expense of putting lines across the Siskiyou Pass would be enormous. There are certainly locations in the state of Oregon that are flat, have far less interstate traffic and reside in more geologically stable environments. Areas in sparsely populated Eastern Oregon might be a consideration.
. The proposal, as we understand it, will make the Klamath River dam substation a destination for the proposed energy corridor. In doing so, you are targeting a substation connected to a dam that may soon be dismantled when court-ordered priority concerns for Klamath River salmon prevent re-licensing of Klamath River dams.
. The energy corridor segment, which is proposed for California’s Jenny Creek Falls, is a Redding BLM area of critical environmental concern.
We appreciate that when notified by many concerned citizens you moved the original 3,500 foot energy corridor out of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, but we still believe that for the reasons stated above, putting it in this region at all is a serious mistake.
We are a small, entirely volunteer fire district that, for 25 years, has provided needed fire and emergency medical services to the residents of our community. We simply do not have the resources, nor are more likely to appear, to support a crisis occasioned by a “mega” corridor .The location of our area makes it difficult (and at times impossible) for outside agencies to respond in a timely fashion.
We believe, once these facts are reviewed and the costs of locating the corridor in this area thoroughly researched that [the desirability of] finding a more geologically friendly, more cost effective and less populated traffic area will become clear.
We would be happy to provide further information to you on this matter. Thank you for your attention to our concerns and we hope that you will find a more hospitable location for this project.
Peggy A. Moore
Colestin Rural Fire District
Board of Directors
c. Chief Avgeris
The comment period ended February 14th, 2008. Thank you to all those of you who submitted your comments to the West-wide Energy Corridor D[P]EIS planners.
For further information, see the West Side Energy Corridor website:
For a more complete, easy-to-understand summary of the plan as it may affect us locally, together with issues to consider, maps, and further information, see the (PDF-format) article "West-wide Energy Corridors Routes Planned," published in the Jan.-Feb. 2008 issue of The Colestin Valley Buzz, and re-published here with publisher Lisa Buttrey's permission.
In June, 2005, the Fire Plan Committee (John Ames, Elaine Shanafelt, and Lisa Buttrey) completed and released the Colestin-Hilt Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) that was in the works for over a year. In addition to a public presentation of the main points of the plan by Committee Chair and Coordinator Lisa Buttrey at the community barbeque on Saturday, June 18th, the plan is now available in detail here on our site, through our Colestin-Hilt Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) page.
"The completed plan," according to Lisa Buttrey, "has an Intro section, a Description section, a brief 'Risks' section, and finally the meat of the document in the last section, 'The Action Plan,' followed by the 'Appendices.' "The Action Plan gives detailed ideas for things to do and calls for volunteers to do them. [We] hope to get a few 'Action' items assigned to willing takers (from outside the fire department proper!)."
The Plan has an enormous wealth of information in it, and reflects a tremendous amount of time, extensive research, many meetings with other fire agency and county officials, and hard work. The result is a document that provides a working plan of action for our community to pro-actively achieve a much better level of fire prevention and protection and disaster preparedness than we have ever known. We are also now in compliance, ahead of schedule, and coordinated with the County's new regional fire plan. Check out the Plan on our CWPP page.
Also of interest are some very interesting articles that were edited out of the final CWPP: "Geology of the Districts," a summary by local resident Russell Juncal, and according to Lisa, "very readable for all residents." The second is "Fire Regimes, Fire History and Forest Conditions in the Klamath-Siskiyou Region: An Overview and Synthesis of Knowledge, by Evan J. Frost and Rob Sweeney. Lisa states that this is "a scientific paper, quite lengthy at 59 pages, but full of info about fire history, fire regimes, suppression history, logging impact on fire, etc." A third article that was not considered part of the official plan but that is also relevant is a Homeowner's Safety Checklist from the Fire Safe Council. All of these articles are now available through our CWPP page as well.
Josephine County's Plan, by comparison: On January 18, 2006, the Oregon Dept. of Forestry announced in a press release that Josephine County's Integrated Fire Plan has been awarded statewide recognition: "Josephine County was recently chosen to receive the 2005 Partners for Disaster Resistance and Resilience Outstanding Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan. Josephine County was recognized for the collaborative planning effort that resulted in the Josephine County Integrated Fire Plan..." To learn more about how our neighboring county has prepared a fire plan that has now been recognized throughout the state of Oregon, read the full text of ODF's Josephine County Integrated Fire Plan press release (Jan. 18, 2006).
The "New & Improved Emergency Phone Tree" and Road Signage are two other developments related to our Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Read more.
We need to continue to be aware of cougars near our homes. For updated details on local cougar attacks, information on cougar behavior, and safety tips for cougar encounters, see our community page.
SPECIAL NOTE: Dead deer have been found in our area, due to a virus disease. If you find one, the OR. Dept. of Fish & Wildlife requests that you report it to Steve Neimela at (541) 826-8774 x239. See our community forum page for details.