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Rare winter wildfires in SW Oregon and Coast Range

Jan 24, 2014


By JEFF BARNARD
Of the Associated Press

GRANTS PASS — High winds and a lack of rain combined to whip up a dozen small fires around Western Oregon, many in old logging slash that was burned in recent months and would have been doused by rain in a normal winter.

The Oregon Department of Forestry said two fires burned Friday on private timberland southeast of Cannon Beach. The Falcon fire burned 50 acres and the Shingle Mill fire covered 30 acres. Both were in logging debris that had been burned recently to prepare the site for replanting. Homes in the Arch Cape area were not threatened.

“I have never experienced this in January,” said Ashley Lertora from the Forestry Department's Astoria office. “Usually we have enough rain that burning slash is a safe operation. This time, we just didn't get as much as we expected based on the forecasts.”

Five fires were burning in the Cascades southeast of Salem and three outside Coos Bay, the department said. The biggest was about 200 acres.

In southwestern Oregon, Grayback Forestry President Mike Wheelock sent firefighting crews to two fires rekindled in piles of logging slash.

The Alder Creek Fire has burned 125 acres on private timberland 16 miles north of Shady Cove and another burned 8 acres in the Ashland watershed on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

“These were piles (of logging debris) lit in early December and late November,” said Wheelock. “It's quite unusual this time of year to have a holdover that long. It's a sign of the drought conditions we're had.”

As winds died down, crews were getting fire line around the Alder Creek fires, said Brian Ballou of the Department of Forestry.

After unusually early rains in the fall that helped quell wildfires from the summer, winter rains have failed to materialize. Storms that would normally soak the state and blanket the Cascades with snow have been shunted to the north by a stubborn ridge of high pressure off the coast. What rains have reached the area have been far less than normal, continuing drought that has persisted since last spring. The U.S. Drought Monitor showed most of the state in severe drought.

Dry east winds blew up Thursday from Clatsop County in the north to Jackson County in the south, where they prompted red flag fire warnings. The warnings were extended Friday to Clatsop County.

“Unusually dry conditions coupled with gusty winds will produce conditions favorable for wildfires to burn out of control,” the National Weather Service said.

The city of Astoria asked residents not to do any outdoor burning.

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