Firefighting costs to date

FIRE COST ESTIMATE

ODF incurred $122 million in emergency firefighting costs during the 2013 wildfire season. Reimbursements from federal agencies are expected to reduce the costs to a net $71 million. This still makes 2013 the most costly season on record for the agency.


Monday, November 25, 2013

State Forester Doug Decker on the 2013 fire season

[Following is an excerpt from Oregon State Forester Doug Decker's Nov. 25 message to Oregon Dept. of Forestry personnel.]

Though the fires are out and the smoke has now cleared, I know you’ll agree with me that the 2013 fire season is still with us, and will be for some time. We were busy last week in the Oregon Legislature talking about fire, and I wanted to pass along some good news about the latest milestone related to this last fire season.

We brought three key financial items before the legislature last Thursday and Friday, all of which were met with strong support, allowing us to continue ahead with bill paying, and with preparing for the 2014 fire season. Last week’s Legislative Emergency Board strongly affirmed our work by approving our request for increased spending authority, including the $2 million from the Special Purpose Appropriation, and agreeing to take up our request for an additional $40 million in General Fund money during the February 2014 legislative session. During three legislative committee meetings on Thursday and Friday, legislators went out of their way to thank all firefighters and the department for its work last summer. Woven through the conversations was a strong interest in minimizing future fire risks through active forest management, and concerns about the long-term impacts of climate change.

On Wednesday, I participated in a panel discussion with the Bureau of Land Management and a private landowner representative in front of the Senate Rural Communities and Economic Development Committee on the topic of post-fire recovery. I was proud to highlight the Southwest Oregon District’s swift response on the fire salvage work underway on state forests burned in the Douglas Complex – though not a lot of acres – still an important demonstration for us as forest stewards of our state forests. There is a lot of interest from this committee – especially on the topic of federal forests management.

Last week’s support from the Oregon Legislature and ongoing support from the Governor’s Office is in harmony with what we’ve heard during the recent fall fire protection association meetings now underway. During these sessions, landowners and cooperators have candidly and sincerely expressed their thanks to the department.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Oregon’s inmate fire crews prove their worth in 2013

Standing shoulder to shoulder on the fire line this summer with agency and private sector personnel were firefighters from Oregon’s correctional institutions. Each year the state departments of Corrections (DOC) and Forestry (ODF) team up to select and train inmate hand crews for dispatch to wildfires. During the severe 2013 fire season, the inmates put up some impressive numbers. Some 829 inmates from nine institutions logged 568 crew days at 36 different fires around the state.

Inmates selected to serve on the 10-person hand crews complete the same nationally certified firefighter training course as their civilian counterparts. They learn the essentials of wildfire behavior, firefighting techniques, communication and safety.

Filling an equally important role are the inmate camp crews. Drawn from prison kitchen facilities where they have been trained in food service, these inmates staff ODF’s mobile kitchens at large fires, serving meals day and night to two shifts of firefighters.

“We are pleased to continue a strong partnership with ODF, especially given this unprecedented fire season,” said DOC Director Colette S. Peters. “Our collaboration reduces costs for the state and provides meaningful work opportunities for adults in custody, which helps prepare them for re-entry to the community.”

In fulfilling Oregon law which requires inmates to contribute economically to the state, the crews tallied substantial cost savings when compared to hiring regular workers for the same tasks. On the Douglas Complex fires alone, use of inmates shaved an estimated $1.2 million off the total. Statewide, millions were saved due to inmate labor and the partnership with Corrections.

ODF’s Chris Hall commended the inmates and crew supervisors he worked with on the Rabbit Fire, one of the fires making up the Douglas Complex: “Your professionalism and constant attention to detail showed. With an excellent safety record and your firefighting skills, we were able to catch and hold a most difficult fire in steep, rough terrain.”

Inmates selected for the fire and camp crews are low-risk offenders. The hundreds of inmate crew shift deployments during the 2013 fire season were without incident.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fire Safety Crucial During Fall Hunting Season

CONTACT:
Kyle Reed
Douglas Forest Protective Association 541-672-6507 X 136
kreed@odf.state.or.us

Even though fire season ended earlier in the week in the Douglas Forest Protective Association jurisdiction, hunters and other recreationalists are reminded to be cautious with fire in wildland areas. During the fall months, several warm, windy days are all it takes to dry vegetation out enough for a fire to get out of control.

Campfires are one of the leading causes of wildfires this time of year. To prevent your campfire from becoming a wildfire, follow these tips:

- Always get landowner permission before having a campfire on private property. This includes private timber land.
- When selecting a site for a campfire, avoid areas near buildings, fallen trees, heavy vegetation, and overhanging branches.
- Remove all leaf litter and vegetation down to mineral soil for at least 5 feet on all sides of the fire.
- If a fire ring is not present, make one with rocks.
- Build your campfire downwind and at a safe distance from your tent and vehicle.
- Campfires should be kept small so they are easily manageable.
- Never leave your campfire unattended.
- At a minimum, keep a shovel and bucket of water nearby.

Before leaving the campfire, make sure it is 100 percent out. To do this, drown the embers and coals with water. Then stir everything together with a shovel, and then drown with water again. If any heat or smoke remains, the fire is not completely out. Continue to drown, stir, and drown until the heat and smoke are no longer present.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Contract crews play key role in 2013 fire season

If the summer wildfire season seemed especially busy, the numbers bear it out: The contract fire crews of the Pacific Northwest logged more than 4,700 crew days on 98 wildfires in 2013. The 20-person hand crews – most of them based in Oregon - fought fire in seven western states. Equipped with shovels and Pulaskis, the yellow-shirted firefighters dug and scraped mile upon mile of containment line to stop the spread of fast-moving fires through the forest.

The wildfire agencies of Oregon and Washington began the season with 168 20-person crews on their contract, known as the Interagency Firefighting Crew Agreement. But demand exceeded supply and they added 17 more at the end of July. Ninety contract crews were deployed just on the Douglas Complex fires in southern Oregon.

“Having these trained crews available, fully equipped and ready to be at a fire within short notice, is a very valuable resource for government,” said Cindy Beck, the Oregon Department of Forestry’s (ODF) contract services unit coordinator. “Due to the large fire activity in Oregon this year the crews exceeded the normal 14-day assignments, and continuously received favorable performance reviews.”

ODF developed the original agreement in the late 1980s, when downsizing in Oregon’s timber industry resulted in fewer woods workers and federal agency personnel available to fight fire. Other state and federal wildfire agencies in Washington and Oregon subsequently joined the agreement.

Though the Department of Forestry administers the interagency crew agreement, the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies have used the crews more extensively in the past. But in 2013, forestlands protected by ODF appeared in the crosshairs for lightning, and the state agency logged 3,214 contract crew days on 30 fires across its jurisdiction.

During a moderate fire season, Beck frequently gets calls from contractors, asking why their crews haven’t been dispatched yet. Lack of work was not the case this summer, and the industry stepped up to meet the need.

“In Oregon well over 40 percent of the fire resources that are available come from the professional private fire industry,” said Deborah Miley, executive director of the Lyons, Oregon-based National Wildfire Suppression Association. “These resources provide a highly qualified and trained workforce that has a shared goal to complete the mission and ensure that all of our firefighters go home.”

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fire season ends Sept. 24 in Southwest Oregon District

Contact: Brian Ballou, (541) 665-0662 or (541) 621-4156

Several days of rain across the southwest Oregon region has brought fire season to an end effective Tuesday, Sept. 24, on Oregon Department of Forestry-protected lands in Jackson and Josephine counties. The public regulated use fire danger level drops to “low” (green) after midnight tonight, and all public and industrial fire prevention regulations will be lifted.

It was a busy summer for firefighters across southwest Oregon. Crews responded to more than 330 fires, 126 of which were caused by lightning. More than 43,000 acres of forestland burned on the district, much of it in the Big Windy and Douglas complexes in northern Josephine County. People caused more than 200 fires this fire season, which started June 3, and human-caused fires burned nearly 800 acres. Lightning caused the summer’s biggest wildfires.

Southwest Oregon residents are urged to use caution when burning debris this fall. Many structural fire protection districts require a permit to burn piled debris or to use burn barrels, and both counties issue daily air quality advisories. Call your county’s open burning line before burning to find out whether open burning is allowed. In Jackson County, the number to call is (541) 776-7007. In Josephine County, call (541) 476-9663.

For more information about wildland fire prevention, contact your local Oregon Dept. of Forestry unit office:
• Medford Unit, 5286 Table Rock Rd: (541) 664-3328
• Grants Pass Unit, 5375 Monument Dr: (541) 474-3152

Fire danger regulations are also posted online at www.swofire.com.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

It feels like fall, but fire danger still present

Even though fall is in the air, careless actions can spark a wildfire this time of year. Grasses, brush and other fine fuels parched by the summer’s heat can ignite from a variety of sources – an errant spark from a campfire or warming fire, a discarded cigarette, or a hot exhaust system contacting vegetation. And under fall conditions, these fire starts often don’t become apparent until hours or even days later.

For hunters, a warming fire built on a hillside in the early morning hours takes the chill off. But before you move on, is the fire really out? Even when there is no smoke the ashes can retain heat. On the next sunny day, a little wind can rekindle that “dead” fire and cause it to spread into a wildfire.

Before heading to the forest, be sure to check the rules to learn whether warming fires and campfires are allowed. The safest place for a campfire is in a campground with established fire pits. Before leaving a fire, be sure to douse it repeatedly with water, stirring the ashes each time to ensure it is completely extinguished.

When driving a full-sized vehicle or ATV in the forest, always carry fire equipment required by the jurisdictional land management agency. And before heading to your hunting location, check the current rules on vehicle use. In some areas, off-road use of motorized vehicles may be prohibited.

Likewise with smoking: Check the rules. Depending on the fire danger level, smoking may be restricted to inside a closed vehicle or building. In any case, never discard smoking materials in grass or other vegetation.

For additional fire safety tips and current fire restrictions, contact the Oregon Department of Forestry or the Keep Oregon Green Association.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Central Oregon fire update - Sept. 16, 2013

Several lightning strikes came through the northeastern portion of Central Oregon Sunday afternoon, igniting a handful of fires. Firefighters have responded to all new incidents. One fire is under investigation and estimated at 200 acres. Aerial detection flights will be flown Monday looking for any other fires that have not been located. Weather for the next couple of days is expected to be mostly cloudy and cooler, warming up again on Thursday. Friday will bring another possibility of precipitation to central Oregon.

Incident 813 (McDonald Ferry) located on the John Day River near Old Oregon Trail on Bureau of Land Management land was estimated at 200 acres late last night. Crews will continue to work the fire today.

The Whiskey Springs Fire on the Ochoco National Forest is currently 60 acres and continues to smolder in heavy dead and downed fuels from the old Hash Rock fire. It is located one mile east of Whiskey Springs on U.S. Forest Service Road 27 and was started by lightning on Sept. 5. There are numerous fire-killed snags in the area, making it unsafe for firefighters to engage directly. The fire is expected to continue to smoke and occasionally flare up until the area receives rain or snow. Crews have identified containment opportunities outside of the old fire area and are taking actions to ensure the fire remains contained within the identified area. ‘Fire Activity Ahead’ signs are posted along the 27 Road as travelers approach the fire. While the 27 Road remains open to the public, please use caution while traveling through the area.

The Sam Davis Fire on the Ochoco National Forest is located one mile east of Toggle Meadows south of Forest Service Road 12 and was started by lightning on Sept. 7. Given the time of year and favorable weather conditions, crews are using existing roads for containment opportunities and using drip torches and burn-out operations to secure established containment lines. This strategy is allowing the fire to consume accumulations of hazardous fuels and minimizes risk to firefighters. The fire is currently 272 acres in size. When completed, the final perimeter is expected to be approximately 350 acres. While no formal closure is in place, the public is encouraged to avoid the fire area.

Comments and questions

The purpose of this blog is to provide breaking news about wildfire activity on the forestlands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry. We invite you to post questions or comments you have about current wildfires. Please keep your posts civil and free of profanity. You are also welcome to contact us by email at: information@odf.state.or.us.

Current wildfire info

A rainy September ended fire season in all ODF districts. Oregonians are urged always to exercise fire safety in the forest and the wildland-urban interface.

While lightning often ignites the largest wildfires, human carelessness accounts for 69 percent of all fire starts on the 16 million acres of forestland protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry.

What we do

Protection jurisdiction
The Oregon Dept. of Forestry protects 16 million acres of private and public forestlands from wildfire. This includes all private forestlands in Oregon as well as state- and local government-owned forests, along with 2.8 million acres of federal Bureau of Land Management lands in the western part of the state. There are about 30.4 million total acres of forest in Oregon.

Fire suppression policy
The department fights fire aggressively, seeking to put out most fires at 10 acres or smaller. This approach minimizes damage to the timber resource and fish and wildlife habitat, and protects lives and property. It also saves money. Suppression of large fires can run into millions of dollars.

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About Me

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Oregon Dept. of Forestry's public information officers maintain this blog. During the wildfire season, we spend much of our time reporting on fires and firefighting to news media and the public.