A recent wildfire in the Tillamook Forest. photo: ODF

OREGON - With temperatures expected to be in the low 80’s and high 70’s for much of the state this weekend, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) is warning that conditions in April and May have been unusually dry and could pose increased fire danger.  

That forecast, courtesy of the Portland branch of the National Weather Service, also shows that wind could gust in the Tualatin Valley as high as 21 mph on Friday. 

“This is definitely anything but normal,” said Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields. “On top of concerns related to COVID-19, we’re witnessing early July-like conditions that bring with it the threat of wildfires. And that is even more evident with this weekend’s forecast of abnormally high temperatures.”

Conditions, according to a Thursday press release from the ODF, are already dry due to well-below average precipitation levels throughout April. Coupled with the dry, hot, and windy weekend forecast, fire officials with the agency are concerned. 

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According to Fields, there have been 116 fires on ODF protected lands so far in 2020, more than twice the average for this time of year. 

Just over half of those fires have been caused by people allowing their backyard burn piles to escape.

“The combination of these unseasonably dry conditions and Corona Virus stay at home orders is contributing to an increase in fire activity,” said Fields. 

And while some homeowners have been proactive in creating defensible space around their homes in advance of Oregon’s fire season, yard debris burns have been problematic for the agency.  

Some steps to reduce the chance of sparking a wildfire while burning include:

-- covering debris burn piles with a tarp or other form of plastic sheeting and waiting until next fall to burn

-- As state parks reopen, check before you go to see if campfires are allowed

-- Build fires away from brush, grass and overhanging branches

-- Make sure fires are completely out

Forest Grove Fire & Rescue has also asked local residents to refrain from burning for the time being, due to health and supply concerns due to the coronavirus. 

According to Forest Grove Fire & Rescue, the smoke from backyard burning can cause respiratory issues for some in the region at a time when supplies and emergency services are stretched thin. 

“With protective clothing and gear still in short supply, cutting back on the things that can cause people to need emergency medical services will help us preserve our limited stock,” the agency said in a statement released on their Facebook page. 

The agency asked that rural residents locate burn piles away from structures and to wait until “a better time to burn it.”