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Agencies on weekend fire and traffic alert

— Thousands of families spend the Labor Day weekend enjoying one last summer romp before the kids head back to school and that makes for heavy traffic along major roadways.

The Oregon State Police will be on the lookout to ensure that motorists are obeying traffic laws and drunk drivers are not behind the wheel.

“This weekend is a busy one for us, we’ll actually have quite a few people out and about,” said OSP Sgt. Kaipo Raiser, who works out of The Dalles office.

He said almost all of the troopers in the gorge area will be on patrol Friday and Monday afternoons when people are enroute to a destination and then home. Their primary focus will be Interstate 84 in Hood River and Wasco counties. He said extra patrols will also take place on Highway 97 in Sherman County and along other well-traveled roadways, such as Highway 26 over Mount Hood.

“We will be doing more DUI enforcement on Saturday’s swing shift and also on Sunday,” said Raiser.

Families who head to the great outdoors are prohibited from building camp fires due to high fire danger, says Kiel Nairns, forest officer for the central district of the Oregon Department of Forestry. That agency sets the rules for activities on state as well as private lands in both Hood River and Wasco counties.

“Even though we’ve had some rain this past week, the lighter fuels in the forest – small limbs and needles – can dry out within one hour and can still be easily ignited,” he said.

Nairns said grasses are cured by now so they cannot soak up moisture and while logs might appear to be wet, they have only been soaked on the surface by the sporadic rainfall. He said the core of downed trees is still dry and can burn easily.

“We are having a little cooler weather right now but the conditions are still extreme and people need to be extra careful,” he said.

No off-roading is allowed by ATVs or four-wheelers at this time within ODF’s jurisdiction and all vehicles must stay on improved thoroughfares. He said travel is prohibited on primitive roads because grass and weeds growing in the gravel or dirt can catch fire.

Forestry workers will be checking on camping areas to ensure people are following safety rules, said Nairns. They will be assisted in that endeavor by deputies from the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office.

Lane Magill, chief deputy for that agency, also urges recreationists to be safe in their weekend activities. He said the rapid spread of the Government Flats Complex fires about 10 miles southwest of The Dalles is an example of the danger that exists during the drier months of the year. The three fires that were started by lightning strikes Aug. 16 are now almost fully contained but have consumed more than 11,000 acres and destroyed four houses.

“People need to find out what the restrictions are from kiosks at the access road to campgrounds or checking the rules and regulations before they go,” he said.

“We want this to be a fun time for families that does not become a public safety problem.”

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