Fire season starts off slow in Southern Oregon

MEDFORD, Ore – It is late July and the skies are still clear of smoke. This time last year firefighters were battling hundreds of fires in Southern Oregon that burned thousands of acres.

The Oregon Department of Forestry and the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest say it’s all about the weather conditions. But August is just around the corner and while they’re happy with the current situation, they say fire season will pick up.

Federal firefighters have only responded to 11 fires in the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest this summer. They’ve burned only 2.5 acres.

“This time last year we had hundreds of fires out there,” Eric Hansel, Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest, said.

Firefighters knocked down the vast majority of them. But, the big ones, like the Taylor Creek and Klondike fires, become something more.

“Those are the ones that became the large complex fires that we fought all summer long,” Hansel said.

Last fire season, more than 300,000 acres of land was scorched in the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest. This year has been dramatically different.

“We haven’t had any significant lightening events,” Hansel said.

The thousands of lightning strikes on July 15, 2018, led to hundreds of fires, including the biggest ones in Southern Oregon.

“This year we have been kind of right at the normal 90 degrees, in the high 80’s and so it hasn’t had an opportunity for our fuels to dry out as much,” Hansel said.

“We’re not seeing dry vegetation everywhere,” Natalie Weber, ODF, said.

The trend is the same on Oregon Department of Forestry protected lands in Jackson and Josephine counties.

“It’s just starting to get to that point whereas this time last year everything was already dry and had been for a month,” Weber said.

This time last year, ODF had responded to 206 fires adding up to nearly 47-thousand acres burned. This fire season, ODF’s responded to 82 fires. They’ve burned less than 20 acres.

“Our seasonal firefighters are keeping pretty busy. They have been going on a number of instances, but it’s allowed them to do a lot more patrolling in their areas instead of constantly going from one fire to the next,” Weber said.

The Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest and ODF both say that while it’s been a slow start to summer, they are always ready to battle flames.

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