Editorial: Time for caution about fire in the forest

Published Jul 3, 2013 at 05:00AM

Don’t be fooled by the relatively low fire danger level in the Deschutes National Forest this morning. Each successive hot day raises that level a bit, and we’re in the midst of a string of scorchers.

In fact, according to the Weather Channel, which provides the Deschutes National Forest with a Central Oregon Extensive Rec Management Area forecast, hot weather across the region is likely for most of the next 10 days. During that time forest users can expect to see grass and underbrush dry out and the danger of fire — caused by man, as 90 percent of wildland fires are, or by nature — to rise.

For now there are no extra restrictions on travel and the use of fire in the forest except in the area of last fall’s Pole Creek Fire. Campfires are allowed, though that could change as the forests dry out. Fireworks, by the way, are never legal in the national forest.

Vehicles, too, are legal, even on so-called “two track” roads, those unpaved, unmaintained roads that frequently have grass growing down the middle. Unfortunately, vehicles can ignite that grass, and as hot, dry weather continues, the danger of them doing so rises.

One need only follow the news of the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona to understand the necessity for care. That fire, which began Friday, was burning 1,300 acres by Sunday and had ballooned to about than 8,400 acres Tuesday morning. As many as 250 homes in the area have burned.

Nineteen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew died in the blaze. The last major loss of life among firefighters came 19 years ago this week, when on July 6, 1994, nine Hotshots out of Prineville were among the 15 men killed in Colorado’s Storm King Mountain Fire.

The Arizona tragedy should serve as a reminder to be extra careful in the forest. Hot weather and low humidity makes fires all too easy to start, and the results, even when no lives are lost, can be disastrous.