Local fire agencies and prevention organizations urge the public to consider alternatives to burning yard debris, as unseasonably warm and dry conditions are already causing fires across the state.
While fire season has yet to be declared on lands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry, 126 fires have already burned nearly 1,000 acres in 2019. Warm and dry conditions during May have led to more than 70 fires, catching many people off guard and prompting county-wide burn bans in several areas across the state.
May is Wildfire Awareness Month and the ideal time to reduce excess vegetation around your home that could pose a wildfire threat. However, as you begin spring clean-up, the Oregon Department of Forestry, Keep Oregon Green and the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal urge you to consider alternatives to burning.
“The window to burn safely has closed,” says ODF Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields. “If chipping or recycling is not an option, then it’s best to hold off until after fire season next fall.” Fields says delaying your burn plans will give the debris additional time to cure and still burn efficiently during moderate conditions. Waiting will also prevent piles burned this spring from coming back to life during the heat of the summer, as they can retain heat for several weeks and rekindle under warm, windy conditions.
If burning now is the only option to dispose of woody material, fire officials urge homeowners to follow safe burning practices. A burn pile is less likely to escape control by following some simple safety tips:
- Call before you burn - Burning regulations are not the same in all areas and can vary with the weather and fuel conditions. If you’re planning to burn, check with your local Oregon Department of Forestry district, fire protective association or air protection authority to learn if there are any current burning restrictions or regulations, and whether a permit is required.
- Know the weather forecast - Never burn on dry or windy days. These conditions make it easy for open burning to spread out of control.
- Clear a 10-foot radius around your pile - also make sure there are no tree branches or power lines above.
- Keep your burn pile small - A large burn may cast hot embers long distances. Small piles, 4x4 feet in dimension, are recommended. Add debris in small amounts as existing material is consumed.
- Always have water and fire tools on site - When burning, have a charged water hose, bucket of water, and shovel and dirt nearby to extinguish the fire. Drown the pile with water, stir the coals, and drown again, repeating until the fire is DEAD out.
- Stay with the fire until it is completely out - Monitoring a debris burn continually from start to finish until dead out is required by state law, to ensure that any escaped sparks or embers can be extinguished quickly. Go back and recheck old burn piles, as they can retain heat for several weeks and rekindle when the weather warms and wind begins to blow.
- NEVER use gasoline or other accelerants (flammable or combustible liquids) to start or increase your open fire. Every year, 55-60 percent of all burns treated at the Oregon Burn Center in Portland are the result of backyard debris burning.
- Burn ONLY yard debris - State regulations prohibit the open burning of any material that creates dense smoke or noxious odors.
- Escaped debris burns are costly – State law requires the proper clearing, building, attending and extinguishing of open fires any time of year. Citations can amount to as much as $2,000 and, if your debris burn spreads out of control, you will be responsible for the cost of fire suppression and very likely the damage to neighboring properties. This can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.
More tips on wildfire prevention, including campfire safety, motorized equipment use, and fire-resistant landscaping can be found on the Keep Oregon Green site, www.keeporegongreen.org/.