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Carelessness sparks most fires; three on Friday

A Klickitat County fire crew extinguishes flames along the north side of Highway 14 east of Wishram Friday afternoon, Aug. 8. The fast moving grass fire inundated Maryhill Museum, a few miles to the east, with heavy smoke.

A Klickitat County fire crew extinguishes flames along the north side of Highway 14 east of Wishram Friday afternoon, Aug. 8. The fast moving grass fire inundated Maryhill Museum, a few miles to the east, with heavy smoke. Photo by Mark Gibson.

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A fire in Biggs Junction closed the Pilot truck stop, located on Interstate 84 east of The Dalles, which was occupied only by fire vehicles Friday afternoon, Aug. 8.

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A fireman mops up a brushy area west of the Pilot truck stop at Biggs Junction Friday afternoon, Aug 8. The fire forced the struck stop to close its fuel sales. Mark B. Gibson photo

As work rapidly progressed on the attention-getting Rowena Fire Friday, Aug. 8, three new fires broke out in the region: One on Chenowith, one east of Wishram and one at Biggs Junction.

All appeared to be ignited in heavily trafficked area, and are most likely human caused.

While firefighters continue to battle dozens of wildfires throughout the Northwest, there's one thing they don't need: Help from careless people.

Many of the large, difficult-to-fight wildfires have been caused by lightning. One cell, generally moving from northern California up through the Cascades across Oregon and Washington, can leave multitudes of fire starts in its wake. But most fires are still caused by people.

Lightning accounts for 20-30 percent of all fires, while 70-80 percent of wildfires are human-caused.

Oregon and Washington have already had 1,642 fires (835 human-caused) collectively burn more than 485,000 acres. So how can the public lend a hand in the fight? Simple, don't be part of the problem.

"We always remind forest visitors and residents to do all they can to prevent wildfires," said Nancy Hirsch, chair of the Pacific Northwest Coordinating Group and fire protection division chief with the Oregon Department of Forestry. "But this is paramount--for everyone--right now. We're working hard to control many lightning-caused fires across the region, and more are expected. Resources are stretched very thin, and we can ill afford to divert them to fight human-caused fires that could have been prevented." Leading the way in human-caused fires is debris burning.

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A Klickitat County fire crew extinguishes flames along the north side of Highway 14 east of Wishram Friday afternoon, Aug. 8. The fast moving grass fire inundated Maryhill Museum, a few miles to the east, with heavy smoke.

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Crews pull back hose as they extinguish a grass fire along the north edge of Highway 14 east of Wishram, Wash, Friday afternoon, Aug. 8.

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A fast moving grass fire burns along Highway 14 in Washington, viewed from the Oregon shore near the mouth of the Deschutes River east of The Dalles Friday afternoon. Maryhill Museum, a few miles east, was heavily inundated with smoke. Photo is a combination of four images taken with a phone camera.

"Even during the most severe fire danger, we continue to see illegal burning take place in backyards," says Oregon Department of Forestry's Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields. "When these fires escape, they not only threaten and burn homes and our natural resources; they also cost a lot of money to put out."

Anyone responsible for starting a fire, accidental or not, is potentially liable for those fire suppression costs, not to mention the civil liability for damages to neighboring property owners.

Combined, these costs could run into the millions. If burning is prohibited where you live, and you witness someone burning, call 911 immediately.

"Some of the largest fires we have fought this summer have been human-caused," adds Hirsch. "This is disconcerting, and all the more reason to reiterate a call for care and caution."

Outdoor debris burning is one of many fire related activities that is prohibited throughout much of the region.

There have also been a number of abandoned campfires left to go out on their own, but don't. Campfires, warming fires, and cooking fires are not allowed throughout much of the region as well, unless conducted in an approved location, such as a designated campground. Campers and visitors should check on the restrictions in place at individual parks.

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Diana Bailey talks with Wasco County Chief Deputy Lane Magill about a mandatory evacuation briefly in place for a number of homes in the Wahtonka Road area of Sandlin Road, off Cherry Heights road south of The Dalles, Friday afternoon, Aug. 8. The fire, which ignited at the junction of Chenowith and Browns Creek roads, was quickly extinguished and the evacuation lifted.

Be sure and check fire season regulations where you live or where you may be going. There are several resources on the internet to gain additional information and to learn more about fire prevention practices. Keep Oregon Green, Oregon Department of Forestry, Washington Department of Natural Resources and the offices of the state fire marshal for both Oregon and Washington are great places to start.

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