CHILOQUIN, Ore. – Fremont-Winema National Forest officials are seeing an increase in abandoned campfires and other observed behaviors over the past several weeks that raises the risk of wildfires, despite the Forest being under public use restrictions.
The public use restrictions are intended to reduce the risk of wildfire by limiting campfires and stoves to areas that area safe, as well as restricting smoking, operating motorized equipment and other activities involving an open flame.
“We are seeing an increase in abandoned fires, people still using chainsaws, and some generally careless behavior, even though our fire danger is currently under the ‘Extreme’ adjective class and the Industrial Fire Precaution Level is 3,” said Chiloquin and Chemult District Ranger Judd Lehman.
Yesterday firefighters responded to a fire located just off U.S. Highway 97 near Collier State Park on the Chiloquin Ranger District. The fire was quickly lined by a dozer and hose lay and was contained at approximately 1.6 acres. Last night firefighters were working on mop-up.
“We were extremely fortunate to catch this early,” Lehman said. “While the cause is currently under investigation, we are seeing a dramatic rise this summer in fires being set in the Forest and abandoned campfires.”
Lehman added that in recent weeks, as fire danger increased and public use restrictions when into effect, the local Ranger Districts have increased patrols and communicating with the public. This includes education on fire prevention, the current fire restrictions, and the challenges of recent fire starts.
“The Collier Fire is the most recent case where our firefighters were able to take action quickly and suppress a fire before it could grow to a size that would threaten our area communities and resources. But with red flag and fire weather warnings combined with dry fuels, a small fire can quickly become a large wildfire. We need the public to be more careful and follow the public use restrictions,” Lehman said.
Under the restrictions, campfires are currently only allowed in established fire rings in campgrounds designated in “Exhibit A” of the closure order. A list can be found posted on the Forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/fremont-winema.
Campfires are also still allowed in designated Wilderness Areas. Charcoal briquets can also be used at the designated sites listed in “Exhibit A”.
Petroleum-fueled stoves, lanterns or heating devices, such as portable propane or gel camp stoves, are still permitted throughout the Forest.
Campfires are not currently allowed in the forest outside of the designated areas. Smoking is only allowed within a closed vehicle or building, in a developed recreation site, or in an area at least 3 feet in diameter with no flammable material.
As part of the order, motor vehicles are not allowed even on open roads if vegetation will come in contact with the vehicle undercarriage. Chainsaw use is also currently prohibited anywhere on the Forest and portable generators are only allowed in the designated areas listed in “Exhibit A”. Any internal or external combusting engine must have a spark arrestor. Additionally, welding or anything involving a torch or open flame are also prohibited.
“We’ve been really fortunate this fire season to not have the large fires happening in other areas,” Lehman said. “We appreciate the public’s cooperation with following the public use restrictions, making sure your campfire is dead-out and cold before leaving it, and being careful with anything that can throw a spark in the forest. This will help keep our local communities and resources safe and help reduce potential smoke impacts this fire season.”
The challenges are not limited to one Ranger District. Across the Fremont-Winema National Forest, law enforcement and fire officials are finding dozens of abandoned campfires every weekend, as well as chainsaw and other motorized use.
There can be significant consequences, including potential payment of fire suppression costs if someone is found responsible for causing a wildfire. Similarly, the public use restrictions are under a Forest Closure Order, which carries measures for violations.
The public use restrictions are formally referenced as Forest Closure Order Number 06-02-20-01. The order was put in place on July 24 and will remain in place until November 1 or until conditions allow them to be rescinded.