Lightning is largely absent from Oregon this week. However, warm, dry weather will greet the hundreds of thousands of visitors arriving to see the eclipse of the sun on Aug. 21. Avoiding activities that can spark a wildfire is key to making the eclipse a safe and pleasant experience for all. One measure adopted to reduce the risk of wildfire is a temporary ban, now in effect, on all campfires in state parks





Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Firefighters save juniper harvesting equipment from the Grouse Mtn Fire

Timely work by Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) firefighters saved a Burns-based juniper reclamation business from losing equipment during the Grouse Mountain Fire’s active run towards the city of John Day on August 8.

Joseph’s Juniper Inc. had been conducting a 116-acre juniper harvesting and processing project on private rangeland in the Little Beech Creek drainage. About one-quarter of the project area had already been treated, with rows of thousands of felled and bunched juniper logs scattered throughout the unit as well as bundles of finished juniper poles for game fencing near a central processing site. Owner Gerard Joseph LaBrecque, also known as Gerard Joseph, was on the site on Wednesday evening as the lightning fire burned in grass, brush and juniper to come to within 300 yards of his portable sawmill, skidder and three trailers. He estimated over 5,000 of the bunched juniper stems were burned during the first evening of the fire. He and his three-person crew evacuated the area just before midnight.

On Thursday morning, Joseph and his crew were granted access by ODF to the fire area to check on the status of the fire and their equipment. The equipment was still intact and the owner left the work site later in the day to return to Burns. His crew remained to continue monitoring the fire. Then late in the afternoon, with winds shifting and the fire building energy for its run towards John Day, the crew informed Joseph that the fire was on the move again, even re-burning some of the rangeland scorched the night before. They had left the work site in a hurry, not feeling it was safe to stay. Joseph anxiously contacted ODF’s John Day Unit Office for assistance in learning the fate of his equipment.

Meanwhile on the fire lines, Kirk Ausland, ODF division supervisor, was closely tracking the fire’s behavior in the same area and directing his firefighters towards the same work site.

“The timing was critical,” said Ausland. “Extreme fire behavior was occurring on three sides of the equipment when I arrived. Our priority at that time immediately shifted to saving Mr. Joseph’s business property.”

Embers from the fire were already burning under the trailers. Ausland estimates that if firefighters had gotten there five minutes later, all of the equipment could have been lost. Instead, the actions taken by the firefighters prevented any of the equipment or trailers from being burned. However, six bundled units of finished fence posts were lost as the fire front passed by.

“I was pleased when fire officials called me and told me our equipment had been saved,” said Joseph. “The actions of the firefighters on the ground were outstanding.”

“In this day and age, for an agency to talk the talk and then walk the walk is unheard of,” Joseph went on to say. “I am grateful to ODF for their efforts.”

Joseph also said he was proud of his crew for putting safety first and making the right decision to leave the fire area when they did.

Ultimately, the Grouse Mountain Fire also burned one barn that firefighters determined was not defensible during the fire’s Thursday evening run. No other structures have been reported damaged on the 12,076-acre blaze. Losses of livestock and grazing resources have yet to be quantified.

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The purpose of this blog is to provide breaking news about wildfire activity on the forestlands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry. We invite you to post questions or comments you have about current wildfires. Please keep your posts civil and free of profanity. You are also welcome to contact us by email at: information@odf.state.or.us.

Current wildfire info

Cool, wet weather in the winter of 2016-17 ended Oregon's long drought and left a thick snowpack at higher elevations which will take some time to melt. However, even in non-drought years Oregon's warm, dry summers create conditions that allow for fire to start and spread. In an average summer firefighters still see almost a thousand fires on lands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry.



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Protection jurisdiction

The Oregon Dept. of Forestry protects 16 million acres of private and public forestlands from wildfire. This includes all private forestlands in Oregon as well as state- and local government-owned forests, along with 2.8 million acres of federal Bureau of Land Management lands in the western part of the state. There are about 30.4 million total acres of forest in Oregon.



Fire suppression policy

The department fights fire aggressively, seeking to put out most fires at 10 acres or smaller. This approach minimizes damage to the timber resource and fish and wildlife habitat, and protects lives and property. It also saves money. While suppressing large fires can cost millions of dollars, economic and environmental damage from wildfires can be many times greater.




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Oregon Dept. of Forestry's public information officers in Salem, Ore., maintain this blog. During the wildfire season, we spend much of our time reporting on fires and firefighting to news media and the public.