EUGENE, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Forestry battled 584 wildfires started by people in Oregon last year; millions of dollars spent, lost structures, forests, and lives, all that could have been prevented.
Matt Mackey is the Wildland Fire Supervisor for ODF’s Western Lane District. He’s been fighting fires for eight years and although he love it, he loves Oregon’s beauty more.
“I love Oregon, Oregon is beautiful and it’s green. When these fires go it turns everything black it kills all the vegetation around it and turns it really ugly. If we can keep Oregon green, keep Oregon fire safe it’s going to maintain it that way,” Mackey said.
Some wildfires are unavoidable. When lightning strikes, there’s nothing to do but attack it. But out of control burn piles, campfires, cigarette butts, or even a spark from a lawn mower are always avoidable with just a little extra care.
“They’ll light their piles, leave, and all of a sudden the wind will pick up and the next thing they know, their field is on fire or the fire has spread to other areas of their property, getting trees on fire,” Mackey said.
Oregon summers are hot and this year, we’ve already seen temperatures rise and humidity drop. Despite recent rainfall, forests and grasses are still extremely dry. The National Interagency Fire Center is predicting a greater potential for large fires earlier in June. That means extra precautions are needed.
“Take consideration of the conditions and not the calendar date,” Mackey said.
As long as there are no specific burn bans in place, camp fires are allowed all summer, but only in certain areas.
“Just because you have a rock pit, next to a river, doesn’t mean it’s safe. You have to go to designated areas which are provided by the Bureau of Land Management or the park areas as well,” Mackey said.
ODF is more than happy to come out and make sure campfires on private property are in a safe spot. An area that is wide open and free from overhead trees and other fuels.
“When you’re starting a fire, whether it be a campfire or a burn pile, you want to make sure that you have the necessary tools to put that fire out. You always want to have a shovel and enough water to completely extinguish the fire,” Mackey said.
After picking the site and knowing how to put out the fire, the next step is keeping it under control.
“When you’re making a campfire, make sure you’re keeping it small, you’re keeping it controlled, making sure you’re not using too big of fuels that can get carried away and also make sure when you’re going to bed at night, make sure it’s out, you know a lot of people want to keep the fire going throughout the night, well when you’re sleeping you have no control of what that fire is doing,” Mackey said.
Maintaining control of the fire is key, and doing so will keep everyone safe, protect the buildings and land and keep pocket books free from hefty fines.
“The biggest thing is just use common sense and use real extreme caution. Don’t go out there lighting fireworks off in the middle of August,” Mackey said.