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Flood watch issued December 20, 2014

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Burn ban takes effect May 20

Burning permits issued by Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue will become invalid effective May 20, and burning within the jurisdiction will be banned, but fire officials are urging people to avoid burning even before that date as a result of higher than usual fire danger.

“Anyone with a current, valid permit is encouraged to put off burning until fall,” said Dan Hammel, division chief for Mid-Columbia.

The May 14 Fifteenmile Fire in the 3600 block of Fifteenmile Road was a preview of coming attractions for firefighters. The blaze burned 10 acres, required nine engines, three water tenders and more than 35 firefighters from Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue, Klickitat County Fire Districts 6 and 11, Dufur Fire Department, Oregon Department of Forestry and the USFS Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area to contain.

“We were seeing fire behavior that is not normal for later in the summer.” Two weeks later, he noted, the fire could have easily expanded to 100 acres or more.

The area is seeing more burn pile fires get out of control, he added, although that was not the cause of the Fifteenmile fire. The fire is still being investigated, but he said it may have been related to an unexpected outcome from an ammunition round, perhaps a tracer round or misloaded shell included with regular ammunition.

While the top layer of grass may look green, beneath that are layers of dried grasses that can carry fire.

“Looking around at the Klickitat Hills, we’re already seeing cured grasses at the lower levels,” Hammel said.

The early fire danger is of particular concern because state and federal firefighting partners have not yet brought on their summer help. Seasonal firefighters typically don’t start until after school is out.

“It’s not worth the risk,” Hammel said of open burning. “That’s where the decision came in to impose the burn restriction Monday.”

The restriction comes a full six weeks earlier than the usual start to fire season and weather predictions aren’t expected to improve the risky situation.

“The forecasted amount of rain is not going to make a difference,” Hammel said. “What moisture we are going to get, with the wind and sun coming out, is going to turn around and evaporate. The only thing that would really change the fire danger is a constant drizzle for several days.”

Hammel also noted that this is an important time for homeowners to take precautions to protect themselves and their property from fire.

“We have concerns about the urban interface areas,” Hammel said. “People really need to take precautions to improve their survivability in the event of fire.”

He invited district residents to call him at the fire district, 541-296-9445, and he will be happy to come out and help identify issues.

“You can take care of simple things to increase the safety level in your home.”

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