Current situation

Winter and spring see lots of controlled burns in Oregon to eliminate piles of woody debris left over after logging or thinning. Embers buried in the ashes of these pile burns can sometimes reignite even days after a fire appears to be out, especially if winds blow away ashy debris. The same winds can then fan smoldering embers back to life. That's why it's a good idea to keep checking old pile burns to ensure no hot spots have rekindled.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Brian Ballou receives Bronze Smokey Award for wildfire prevention work

June 12, 2015

Dan Thorpe
Oregon Dept. of Forestry

For southwestern Oregon residents, there are two reliable indicators that wildfire season has arrived: smoke in the air, and Brian Ballou on the evening news. Since 2004 the Oregon Department of Forestry fire prevention educator has taught homeowners, recreationists and forest operators common-sense ways to avoid accidentally starting fires while working or playing in the woods. In recognition of his efforts, Ballou recently received the coveted Bronze Smokey Award.

“This is the highest honor given to organizations or individuals for outstanding wildfire prevention service that is national in scope,” Said Dan Thorpe, ODF district forester for SW Oregon. The Gold, Silver and Bronze Smokey Awards recognize individuals and organizations for “outstanding wildfire prevention service or projects rendered.”

Ballou’s innovative approach to educating the public about fire safety incorporates an array of tools, from mass media, to home visits, to social media. A wildfire blog he originated has become the go-to source for area residents seeking current fire information. During the record 2013 and 2014 seasons the blog exceeded 25,000 hits per day.

His brochures, “Wildfire! Are you prepared?” and “Will your home survive a wildfire?” have fostered awareness of the fire risk among thousands of rural homeowners and instructed them in how to make their houses and properties defensible in the event of an encroaching wildfire.

Hundreds of broadcast news media appearances each summer have cemented his reputation as the face of wildfire prevention in SW Oregon.

The fire educator’s behind-the-scenes work has had no less of an impact on the public’s awareness of wildfire risk. He was a key player in the development of Community Wildfire Protection Plans in two counties and five communities.

Willing to reach out even to non-traditional partners to promulgate the wildfire prevention message, Ballou worked with plant specialists, Oregon State University Extension, nurseries, landscapers and others to produce a local list of fire-resistant plants for rural homeowners. Some plants commonly used in landscaping, such as ornamental juniper, can actually carry a ground fire to structures, while the plants on his list resist the flames and also require less water to maintain.

Measuring the success of any type of prevention work can be challenging. But during his tenure in ODF’s Southwest Oregon District, the trend in human-caused wildfires has declined from 200 a year to 165 annually – a significant impact in a fire-prone area with a population of 300,000.

In 1997, the Oregon Legislature passed landmark legislation that addressed the burgeoning threat to forests, life and property posed by developments near and in the forest. The Oregon Forestland-Urban Interface Fire Protection Act, which came to be known as “Senate Bill 360,” broke new ground by encouraging rural residents to turn their fire-vulnerable urban and suburban properties into less-volatile zones where firefighters could better defend homes from wildfires. Ballou implemented the Act throughout Jackson and Josephine counties and statewide with passion and creativity, developing an entire suite of SB-360 aids, including a guidance manual for rural residents, certification training materials, and a property self-evaluation form.

His nomination for the Bronze Smokey Award received broad support from the community, with 31 letters of support submitted by organizations including the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon State Fire Marshal, The Nature Conservancy, Congressman Greg Walden, Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association and others.

Gwen Beavans, National Fire Prevention Coordinator with the U.S. Forest Service, described the high regard in which Ballou is held for his work:

“Brian is a longstanding stalwart representative in fire prevention and a household name in southern Oregon, just like Smokey Bear,” she said.

Ballou works out of ODF’s Southwest Oregon District office in Central Point, and he resides with his family in the area.


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Comments and questions

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:

Current wildfire info

Cool, wet weather in the winter of 2016-17 ended Oregon's long drought and left a thick mountain snowpack. It didn't take long for that to melt and vegetation to dry out due to a series of heatwaves and a prolonged stretch of dry weather over the summer. As forest fuels dried, fires started and spread, many from lands adjacent to those protected by ODF, such as the Chetco Bar Fire in Curry County. That one fire accounted for 46% of the 47,537 acres of land protected by ODF which burned in 2017. Of fires originating on ODF-protected land, 95% were put out at less than 10 acres.

What we do

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. In total there are about 30.4 million 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.


About Me

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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.