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The 2004 Fire Season

 

Fire Season 2004
   & Wildland Fire
    Prevention & News:

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   2003 & related stories

 

______________

More links will follow
as we continue to
develop this site.

______________

 

 

This page is a log of our online postings of the 2004 fire season as it developed.

 

The 2004 Pre-Season:  Will we or won't we have air tanker support this year?

According to recent national news, [federal] "officials cancelled $30 million in contracts for use of the large air tankers last month, citing safety concerns after two planes broke up in midair in 2002, killing five people." To be put back into use, their private operators have to establish that they are safe.

"However, "[E]ven if the tankers are not restored, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have adequate resources to fight fires this summer... The two agencies said Tuesday [June 1st] they plan to add nearly 130 more aircraft to their 700-plane fleet as soon as possible. Private companies will supply up to 48 smaller air tankers, and 71 large and medium-sized helicopters to take up the slack... the extra firefighting help will cost about $66 million."

(for further info, see: "Feds vow to try to get tankers flying" - AP article, pub. by the MT, p.6A, Thurs., June 3rd, 2004, and "The latest in firefighting tools? How about a 747?" - AP article, pub. by the MT, p.2B, Sat., May 22nd, 2004.)

Check out the following recent articles from the Mail Tribune's archives:

"Medford air tanker approved" - April 14th, 2004

"Opinion - Online Edition" - April 15th, 2005

"Firefighters await tanker's fate" - May 11th, 2004

"Medford air tanker availability unresolved" - May 12th, 2004

"Air tanker gets nod for Medford" - May 14th, 2004

"Letters to the Editor - Online Edition" - June 4th, 2004

 

 

"A recent Associated Press article on May 24th underscored the serious conditions we again face this summer:"

" 'Months ago, national fire managers predicted the 2004 wildfire season would be a bad one in the West. Now, they're changing their forecast: It's going to be worse... With unseasonably warm temperatures in March and April, the potential loss of heavy air tankers for safety reasons [see related articles below] and a years-long drought continuing, Western states and the federal government are facing the possibility of another devastating fire season.

" 'Years of drought have left states across the West vulnerable to extreme fire conditions. The greatest threat lies in the Pacific Northwest, the northern Rockies of Idaho and Montana, and the Southwest, including Southern California, where conditions are the driest. In Washington, the state Department of Natural Resources already has fought 70 small fires this year, up from the usual 20, and forests are as dry as they typically are in late July or early August. And snowpack in the Cascades in Oregon has fallen to well below average...'

" 'A map provided by the National Interagency Fire Center shows where there is above-normal potential for wildfires this season; all of Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington, much of northern Idaho, and western Montana is blanketed with this potential, from the Cascade range eastward. The far-eastern strip of northern California is also included. Paul Werth, of the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland, is quoted as saying, "It really is huge... There's really the potential for a large number of huge fires - long-duration fires.'

" 'Some Oregon districts such as LaPine, which experienced a 21,000-acre fire last year which burned to the edge of town, suspended all burning several weeks early this year, after 1,000-hour fuels, such as "6 to 8-inch logs and dead growth," also ignited during spring brush burning. "Early fires already are scorching Southern California, where fire danger usually is highest in the fall... Wildfires early this month [in May] blackened thousands of acres across Southern California and destroyed 28 homes. The entire state of Arizona and at least half of New Mexico are facing above-normal and even critical fire danger," as well.'

" 'Fires in southern California and Nevada as of July 20th are already severe, with thousands of acres affected, massive emergency population evacuations, and numerous homes destroyed by uncontrollable flames pushed by high winds.' "

"For further up-to-date fire outlook information, see our Weather & Fire Weather Links, News & Info page."

 

 

The 2004 fire season outlook:

"Because of the earlier warm, dry spring, followed by just enough rain to promote spring grass growth, which is now dry, coupled with wide-spread extended drought conditions across the west, the 2004 fire season is expected to be busier and potentially more severe than most.

If you have questions, call us at (541) 488-1768, or call the ODF at (541) 664-3328. You can also view the notices published by the Mail Tribune:"

"Be careful out there"
MT, Thurs., June 3rd, 2004

 

 

On Friday, June 4th, the 2004 fire season began in Jackson and Josephine counties in southern Oregon. All open burning was prohibitedfrom this date forward through the remainder of the 2004 fire season.

"The restriction on open burning applies on all private, county, state and BLM lands. Please observe this restriction voluntarily. Any violations will be cited, and prosecuted if necessary.

We will update this when this final restriction is lifted, as well as posting a notice at the end of fire season.

The ODF cautions that we should continue to be cautious while taking advantage of the lessening of restrictions, since we are still in fire season at High fire danger.

We ask that you continue to use caution and common sense with regard to the fire potential of any of your activities.

Always call in any suspicious smoke, as well as all known fires: Rapid response is crucial.

Remember that rain does not ALWAYS change the fire danger - it only lessens it temporarily. Please observe the posted levels, regardless of rain.

If you have any questions about the open burning restriction or other potential fire risk activities, please call us at (541) 488-1768. We are here to assist you.

For non-local general information, call the ODF at (541) 664-3328."

 


Thank you
for your co-operation

and participation in rural fire prevention!

 

"Reminder: Under SB 360, if someone ignores any rule regarding fire danger restrictions and causes a wildfire, that person could be billed for all firefighting costs under state law.

Oregon State law also says parents can be held financially responsible for fires started by their children.


Fire Tip Reminders: Keep a shovel or other fire tools available during the fire season, as a general precaution, in the event of sparks from vehicles, barbeques, or other sources.

Be alert during and after lightning storms for smoke or fires.

Lightning strikes can cause fires in slow-burning, heavier fuels or subsurface forest floor duff that sometimes remain unseen for several days before they build into visible fires.

This can be just as true when lightning hits with rain, as without rain, depending on the type of fuel involved.

Rain does not remove fire danger: it only lessens it temporarily.

In high heat, previously dry light "flash" fuels, (i.e., grasses, surface duff and shrubbery) can become completely dry and flammable again within a day or two."

 

 

 

ODF's public announcement, "Outdoor fire restrictions begin Monday" was published in the (Medford) Mail Tribune on Sun., July 18, 2004.

 

 

The July 24th, 2004, Hilt Community Center Fire

On the evening of Saturday, July 24th, the historic Hilt Community Center was struck by lightning during the storm that hit our area. Despite rapid initial attack and interagency assistance, the structure could not be saved, and burned to the ground.

Tom Shorey and his sons, who lived in a part of the building, were not home at the time of the fire, but their belongings were a total loss. Nearby neighbor Christina Lehman set up a voluntary assistance fund (called The Tom Shorey Fund) to help them through their loss. Anyone wishing to contribute may do so at any Bank of America branch.

The Siskiyou Daily News in Yreka refered to the structure as, "One of the last remaining historical structures in the town of Hilt." The Ashland Daily Tidings stated that, "Years of memories now lay in a charred mess of metal and wood as Hilt residents, past and present, mourn the loss of the Hilt Community Center. // The center burned to the ground about 7 p.m. Saturday..."

The Siskiyou Daily News and the Ashland Daily Tidings carried several full reports of this event, and some local Hilt residents have offered their comments. Steve Meads, one of the proprietors of the Stateline Service store in Hilt, also took photos.

A new page dedicated to the Hilt Community Center Fire event has local reports, links to news reports, and some photos (just added). (Please allow a few extra minutes if necessary for this page to load, because of the 23 photos presented on it.)

 

Other local papers carried reports of the many regional lightning fires of July 24th:


Saturday's storm ignites weekend's worth of fires
(from the The Mail Tribune - Medford - Tuesday, July 27th, 2004)
"...Oregon crews knocked out seven fires Sunday that Saturday’s storm ignited. The largest of those burned three-quarters of an acre near Pilot Rock..."

Storm moves in, and quickly out (from the Mail Tribune - Medford - Sun. July 25th, 2004)

300 flee Iron Gate fire
(from the Siskiyou Daily News - Yreka, CA - Mon. July 26, 2004)
IRON GATE DAM - Back-to-back lightning storms struck northern Siskiyou County over the weekend, causing a number of wildland fires in the area, including a major fire near a residential area surrounding Iron Gate Reservoir. "Most of them were taken care of that night... However,..."

"...CDF officials say eight new fires were caused by a lightning storm that returned to the area Sunday evening, all limited to 25 acres or less with the largest occurring off of Highway A-12 in the area of Mount Shasta Vista. Fire crews were still working that fire this morning and expect total containment by the end of the day. // Lightning strikes hit a number of other locations throughout the Shasta Valley over the weekend including Hilt, Greenhorn and Humbug Ridge near Yreka, Gregory Mountain near Montague and the Iron Gate area. Firefighters responded to 15 fires Saturday night and eight new fires on Sunday, all as a result of lightning."

 

 

The area's widespread smoke during the last week of July was caused by a fire to the north, in central Oregon:

Valley haze coming from distant fire
(reported in the Ashland Daily Tidings, Fri. July 30th, 2004)
:

"The haze of smoke which has hovered in the Rogue Valley since Thursday is coming from the 10,500 acre Log Springs Fire in Central Oregon, said Dennis Turco, fire prevention officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry..."

Valley smoke from Central Oregon fire
(reported in the Mail Tribune, Fri. July 30th, 2004)
:
"...The smoke pouring into the Rogue and Bear Creek valleys Thursday morning [July 29th] was from the 10,500-acre Log Springs fire in Central Oregon, said Dennis Turco, local fire safety officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry. The drift smoke prompted numerous calls to his office from local residents concerned a large wildfire was burning nearby... The smoke is expected to diminish as the fire is controlled and the prevailing winds dissipate it. For daily wildfire smoke forecasts and updates, visit www.odf.state.or.us/DIVISIONS/protection/fire_protection/daily/wfsmoke.asp

 

 

And another storm on Monday August 2nd:

Hail, rain pound valley
(from the Mail Tribune - Medford - Mon., Aug 2nd, 2004)

Under the weather
"Heavy rain, hail and thunderstorms struck the region on Monday afternoon, causing flooding in Phoenix and Ashland... About eight to 10 fires were caused by lightning in Jackson County, including four to five in the Ashland area... About 175 of the 3,400 lightning downstrikes in Oregon were detected in Jackson County, Turco said. The bolts came while ODF announced it would enact extreme fire-precaution restrictions beginning Wednesday in Jackson and Josephine counties..."

(from the Daily Tidings - Ashland - Tues., August 3rd, 2004)

Thunderstorm apparently left few fires
(from the Mail Tribune - Medford - Wed., Aug. 4th, 2004)

 

Other significant news:

Firefighters receive grant
"Medford and Ashland firefighters will soon be able to respond to fires, medical calls and other emergencies faster than ever, thanks to a $237,000 federal grant."
(reported in the Mail Tribune - Medford - Wed., August 4th, 2004)

 

 

We went to '"Extreme" Fire Danger on Wed., August 4th. On that date, the Oregon Dept. of Forestry faxed us the following notice of fire restrictions:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACTS:
ODF: Dan Thorpe (541) 664-3328 & Rick Dryer (541) 474-3152
BLM: Tom Murphy (541) 618-2236
USFS: Mary Marrs (541) 858-2211


EXTREME FIRE DANGER - RESTRICTIONS INCREASED

Central Point, OR:  Even with cooler temperatures forecast, fire danger in Southwest Oregon is now extreme. In an effort to prevent human-caused wildfires under these conditions, wildland fire agencies are tightening restrictions on activities conducted by the general public, and industrial forest workers. These restrictions will be effective on National Forest lands and on the Rogue River - Siskiyou National Forest protected by the USDA Forest Service, and on state, county, private, and Bureau of Land Management lands in Jackson and Josephine Counties protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry. All restrictions listed will be effective Wednesday, August 4, 2004.


RESTRICTIONS ON OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY PROTECTED LANDS:

FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC - The following activities will be completely prohibited:

  • Outdoor burning of any kind

  • Use of fireworks

  • Non-agricultural mowing of dry grass

  • Campfires, except in improved campgrounds such as state and county parks

  • Smoking in areas of flammable vegetation

  • Vehicle use in areas of flammable vegetation, except on improved roads free of flammable vegetation

  • Cutting, grinding, and welding of metal

  • Chainsaw use

  • Use of power driven machinery such as backhoes, string trimmers, chippers, etc.

     

 

Fire restrictions were lessened on August 24th, 2004, as follows:

Commercial restrictions: the Industrial Fire Precaution Level is now at Level 2.

Public restrictions:

  • Non-commercial chain saw use is prohibited between 1:00 and 8:00 p.m.

  • Non-agricultural mowing of dry grass is prohibited between 1:00 and 8:00 p.m.

  • Non-agricultural, non-commercial use of power-driven machinery such as backhoes and trenchers, in areas of flammable vegetation is prohibited between 1:00 and 8:00 p.m.

  • Cutting, welding or grinding of metal in areas of flammable vegetation is prohibited.

  • Use of motorized vehicles off of improved roads is prohibited.

  • All outdoor burning is prohibited.

  • Smoking is prohibited in wildland areas, except in enclosed vehicles while on improved roads, free of flammable vegetation.

  • Campfires are allowed only in designated areas such as county and state parks.

  • Fireworks are prohibited in areas of flammable vegetation such as dry grass, brush, and other forested areas, and on all federal lands.

 

These changes are in response to the cooler weather and rains of recent weeks. The ODF cautions that the fire danger may rise back to Extreme again if hotter, dryer weather returns, and that these changes may only be temporary.

We are reminded to continue to be cautious while taking advantage of the lessening of restrictions, since we are still in fire season at High fire danger, larger forest fuels remain dry inside, and overall fuel load amounts have not diminished.

Restrictions apply on all private, county, state and BLM lands. Please observe these restrictions voluntarily. Any violations will be cited, and prosecuted if necessary.

For additional commentary by ODF see "Wet weather dampens fire danger But prevention officer says return of hot days will quickly dry the wildlands," published Tues., Aug. 24, 2004, in the Mail Tribune (Medford), by Paul Fattig.


NOTE: These changes, as above, are in response to the cooler weather, which has been unseasonally and unpredictably cooler over the past week.

Just days before the level was changed, we sent postcards to our district members notifying them of activity restrictions under Extreme fire danger conditions, which were expected to continue for the remainder of the fire season.

We apologize for the contradictory restriction notice, and suggest that if you received one, you retain it for reference in the event that we return to Extreme conditions.

 

 

The fact that fire danger was still with us was underscored just before this by another fire in Hilt on Monday afternoon, September 6th. The Mail Tribune's report on September 7th read:

 

Roadside wildfire doused in Hilt

HILT, Calif. - "Investigators believe a carelessly tossed cigarette started a fire that burned about 10 acres Monday afternoon.

"The fire started just off Hilt Road around 4:15 p.m., said Monty Messenger, a fire captain and investigator with the California Department of Forestry.

"Crews from the California and Oregon departments of forestry, U.S. Forest Service and fire departments in Hilt, Colestin, Hornbrook and Montague battled the blaze. Hand crews, a helicopter and a dozer worked to contain the fire, Messenger said. Two homes in Hilt were threatened by the flames, but firefighters corralled the blaze before it damaged any buildings, he said. The fire was under control by 6 p.m.

"The fire remains under investigation. Messenger reminds people to be careful outdoors as fire season hasn't ended yet."

 

 

A front-page article in the Medford Mail Tribune on Monday, Sept. 20th, 2004, stated that "Slow Oregon fire season is over."

However, we confirmed with Dennis Turco of the ODF that this was a misprint, and that the article (not by local reporters but written by the AP) applied to areas in the northern part of the state and elsewhere, but not to our own.

The Mail Tribune on Tuesday, September 21st, 2004, ran another front-page article correcting the previous article: "Local wildfire season persists: Warmer days ahead keep the official fire danger at 'High' in Southern Oregon."

The ODF's news release stated that, "Fire season may have ended in some parts of Oregon, but it's still in effect in Jackson and Josephine Counties. Some local areas received little rainfall, the heavy vegetation is still dry, and warm, dry, & windy conditions are expected by the weekend. Although fire danger is "High," ODF officials are easing some restrictions on state, county, private and BLM lands..."

(You can view the ODF's news release of Mon. 20 Sept. in pdf file format - requires free Adobe Acrobat Reader software).

 

 

As of Sunday, October 10th, 2004:

WE ARE STILL IN FIRE SEASON.

However, because of recent rain, the posted Fire Danger Level has just been lowered to "MODERATE."

As of late Saturday, October 9th (yesterday), we received word from ODF that the fire level has been lowered to Moderate and that all of the fire danger restrictions, with the exception of a continued ban on open burning, are now lifted.

We are in close contact with ODF and will continue to keep our website visitors updated regarding open burning as the fire season winds down.

The following changes in fire danger restrictions are now in effect:

Commercial restrictions: the Industrial Fire Precaution Level remains at Level 1.

Under the IFPL 1, commercial operators on forested lands are required to have fire equipment on site, and provide a watchman service.

Public restrictions:

Open burning remains completely prohibited.

All activities previously prohibited (listed below) are now fully permitted:

  • Non-commercial chain saw use

  • Non-agricultural mowing of dry grass

  • Non-agricultural, non-commercial use of power-driven machinery such as backhoes, trenchers, rototillers, etc.

  • Cutting, welding or grinding of metal
  • Use of motorized vehicles off of improved roads

  • All outdoor burning

  • Smoking in wildland areas, except in enclosed vehicles while on improved roads, free of flammable vegetation.

  • Campfires, except in designated areas such as county and state parks.

  • Fireworks in areas of flammable vegetation such as dry grass, brush, and other forested areas, and on all federal lands.

 

 

The 2004 Fire Season Ends

At 10:00 A.M. on Monday, October 18th, the Oregon Dept. of Forestry declared the end of fire season, due to the recent rains and cooler temperatures.

Mt. Ashland received a dusting of snow, with about a half-inch of rain regionally at lower elevations, by the 18th. (See "Storm ends fire season," Mail Tribune, Tues. Oct. 19th.)

All previous fire danger restrictions were lifted for the duration of the wet season.

While the Hilt-Colestin-Mt.Ashland area experienced several fire incidents this past season, including the Hilt Community Center Fire, the 2004 fire season was regionally lighter, with a lesser number of lightning fires and less consequent damage. It was also shorter, at 137 days; the average is 143 days.

The ODF attributes the lower impact of the fire season to the combination of factors, saying that "the reduced number of fires, fast action by firefighters, great assistance from our cooperators and the timber industry and legislative funding to base an air tanker at Medford played key roles in averting disaster."

Many thanks to everyone in our community for co-operating with and participating in fire safety and rural prevention during this past fire season.

And a special thanks to all of our volunteer firefighters and first responders for doing their best to keep our district safe from fire.

 

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