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Flood watch issued December 20, 2014

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Fire safety vital in forest outings

The recent rainfall across parts of Oregon raised hopes, but it wasn't enough to put the 2013 wildfire season in the rear-view mirror, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry's Tom Fields.

“This was not a season-ending event,” the fire prevention coordinator said. “Coming off of such a dry summer, we'll need thorough saturation of the forest fuels to truly change conditions.”

A warming trend forecast to begin this weekend and continue for up to a week could elevate fire danger once again.

While precipitation helped moderate fire conditions in the forest by moistening light fuels such as grasses, he said, just a day or two of sun and warmth can return the vegetation to a flammable condition.

For many Oregonians, the impulse to burn yard debris kicks in with the first rain. But burning restrictions remain in place across the state and aren't likely to be lifted anytime soon. While conditions may be calm when holding a match to a pile of shrub trimmings, a gust of wind can transform that burn pile into a wildfire in mere minutes.

And in spite of widespread news coverage this summer of Oregon's giant wildfires, some forest visitors apparently didn't get the message. The department's field districts are regularly finding campfires left burning by recreationists who headed for home without attempting to put them out.

Fire danger will moderate as the seasonal transition takes hold with shorter days and cooler temperatures. But careless activity can still trigger wildfires this time of year. And the firefighting force present during the peak of the summer is shrinking. Students who worked on fire crews to pay tuition have returned to college, and contracts for air tankers and helicopters are running out.

Fall is a great time to visit Oregon's forests. As you enjoy the state's unrivaled natural heritage, please exercise caution to prevent fires.

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