With all the wildfire news lately, no doubt most of you are aware of the extreme fire season and the drought conditions in the west this year. In Wallowa County alone, the fire danger indices are the highest in 10 years. With the extreme fire danger level we are now experiencing, the potential for large fire growth is present in Wallowa County.

Although we have had nearly a half-inch of rain wo weeks ago, large fuel conditions remain very dry. In the low elevations, the grass fuels were nearly cured out and will not take long to dry again. The heavy fuels are extremely dry and need much more precipitation to affect them. To add to this, the first week of August had a couple of frosty mornings that have killed the leaves of some of the brush fuel types. Since these brush fuels are not growing anymore, they will dry out at an accelerated rate and increase the volatility of the fuels already present. All of this adds up to critical fuel conditions during August, which is traditionally our most active fire month. As the summer progresses, and the potential for large fires increases, the safety of firefighters, residents and the general public looms as a major concern for all fire managers.

Our Oregon Department of Forestry and U.S. Forest Service firefighting crews have completed all of our training and we all have several large fires under our belts this year -- some as far away as Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Our personnel have already suppressed 55 local fire starts this year. The majority have been lightning-caused fires, but a few of our larger fires have been human-caused.

This is where we need your help. With the recent cool weather and rain we had last week, human nature tends to make some people complacent concerning wildland fires. Trash has been stacking up for a couple weeks, there is a brush pile sitting in the back of some property from last spring that needs to be burned, need to mow some of the dry grass in the field and the need to get a bit further off the gravel road to get that last load of wood, etc. These are real decisions that residents of Wallowa County must face each day. If a wrong decision is made, a wildland fire may start due to that action.

We urge the residents of Wallowa County to not become complacent concerning wildland fires, especially during such a critical part of the fire season. We are now in what historically has been the worst wildfire month over the last 60 years in our area. In August, we have had the most fire starts and largest acres burned of any month in the year. While most of these fires are due to lightning, human-caused fires are still a factor every year. With this in mind, we also urge people to help us enforce the public use restrictions in place throughout the county. By reporting violations, we can enforce the restrictions and educate the violators about fire safety.

Although our county has not made the news, our firefighters have been plenty busy and kept our fires small. As fire managers, the Oregon Department of Forestry Wallowa Unit and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest are prepared to manage whatever fires may occur locally. Both agencies are dependent upon each other to complete our mission to prevent and suppress wildland fires on both private and public lands. We also recognize the citizens of Wallowa County that assist in these efforts. We are proud to serve the citizens of Wallowa County and the State of Oregon.

Andy White

Matt Howard

Oregon Department of Forestry

Wallowa Unit

Nick Lunde

Bob Both

Wallowa Fire Zone

Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

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