What to know as SW Oregon transitions to ‘moderate’ fire danger

CENTRAL POINT, Ore. – The Southwest Oregon District is currently in the “low” wildfire risk category, but with June 21 marking the first day of summer, it’s important to be prepared and know how to stay vigilant in fire prevention efforts as we transition to “moderate” or “high” fire danger later in the season.

Rural Metro Fire Operations Chief Austin Prince spoke about the regulations to expect as fire season progresses and how to stay fire aware. 

“The regulations will require that people shut down power equipment after 1 o’clock in the afternoon until 8 p.m. at night,” Prince said. “It’s a pretty common thing here in Southern Oregon where we start to see higher temperatures, lower humidities and more active wind in the afternoons. These are all contributors to if we get a spark, the possibility that spark will turn into a fire.”

According to Prince, one of the main concerns with accidental human-caused fires is the dry grass and vegetation that is easily ignited.

“Just the exhaust being pointed at some dry material or just the underside of the vehicle that’s been hot,” Prince said. “And then, of course, there are the mechanical problems where just driving down the road and a vehicle might actually have an exhaust issue where the catalytic converter starts to break down and little chunks of hot metal will end up being shot through the exhaust pipe and into the roadside vegetation. These are cases where a vehicle can be starting multiple fires along the road and they don’t even know that it’s happening.”

There are so many activities that people take for granted and forget how risky they can be as the region gets hotter, even something as simple as lawn maintenance. Prince explained that it is not uncommon to have a situation where a mower is passing through tall, dry grass, and the blade comes in contact with a rock or a hidden piece of metal, causing a spark and producing an ember.

“There is even the very common problem where on top of the mower deck, a lot of dry grass remnants from previous mow jobs start to accumulate around the motor and around the belts, that stuff will dry out and could very much make contact with a hot component of the mower and start a fire there,” Prince explained. “And as you’re mowing it’s dropping flaming grass onto the grass behind you.”

If you’re using other power tools, like chainsaws, Prince stresses that a similar situation can occur where a chainsaw comes in contact with an item that can spark, or someone sets it down in the grass after they’re done, but the tool is still very hot, causing the grass to ignite.

It’s also important to check any loose chains on your vehicle.

“Some possibilities exist with dragging chains, where if a trailer that is in tow uses a safety chain to connect with a vehicle, either those loops are too low and they hang and drag and cause a spark, or they completely don’t connect at all and are hung down and dragging and bouncing along as the vehicle is in motion on pavement,” Prince said.

Prince said that, of course, we can’t stop every wildfire from starting, but these simple practices can make a huge difference in the kind of summer we have.

“We want people to know, be aware, be educated, be mindful, be situationally aware of the potential and be able to act quickly to try and keep fires small.”

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Mollie Smith was our NBC5 News at Sunrise con-anchor through February 2024. Mollie is a Southern California native and graduated from California State University, San Marcos with a degree in Communication. Her passion for broadcasting started in high school as an anchor for her school newscast. While in college, she was a Broadcast Intern for the Athletics Department and a Sports Announcer. Her first job after graduation was announcing for the University of Washington and Seattle University. In 2021, Mollie moved to Southern Oregon to anchor and reporter for KTVL News10 until the news department was eliminated. In her free time, Mollie loves hiking and camping with her fiancé, Sean and her dog, Kysa. She’s a big sports fan and passionate supporter of the Los Angeles Angels. (Boo, Dodgers!)
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