Experts weigh in on Oregon wildfire conditions

One expert said there are always going to be unusually dry and unusually wet years.

Posted: Jun 22, 2021 11:05 AM
Updated: Jun 22, 2021 11:23 AM

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Two wildfires are burning in the driest places in the state right now, but experts at Oregon State University said that doesn’t reveal much about what fire season will look like this year.

According to Meg Krawchuk, associate professor at OSU specializing in conservation biology and fire ecology, geographic differences make it difficult to compare fires in different areas of Oregon.

The S-503 fire on the Warm Springs Reservation in Wasco County and Cutoff Fire in Klamath County are two of the fires burning in Oregon right now.

Krawchuk said just because eastern and central parts of the state are seeing fire activity doesn’t necessarily mean western Oregon is also in for a rough season.

“They're almost apples to oranges,” Krawchuk told reporters. “I mean, they are still fires, but east side and west side fires and the drivers, implications, human footprint, all intermixed within that. I think there's an interesting conversation that we need to have when we're trying to say ‘is this like last year?’ Actually, it's nothing like last year.”

Krawchuk said last year, western Oregon had a relatively calm fire season right up until September. There were similar hot, dry conditions. Combined with a historic wind event, fires exploded across the western part of the state.

Erica Fleishman, Oregon Climate Change Research Institute director, said it’s too early to know with certainty whether climate change is driving high fire activity.

“Climate change is a factor. We can't simply pin it on climate change, but it is a factor,” Fleishman said.

Fleishman said there are always going to be unusually dry and unusually wet years.

However, Fleishman said one thing is certain: weather patterns we're seeing this year are consistent with what has been projected as the climate continues to change.

The vast majority of fires in the western United States are caused by humans. Human activity combined with dry, hot conditions is what experts said makes for devastating fires.

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