POLK COUNTY — It is not yet fire season and authorities haven’t declared a burn ban yet — but you still should be careful when burning.
Southwest Polk Rural Fire Protection District issued a warning on behalf of Dallas Fire & EMS, Oregon Department of Forestry West Oregon District and Polk Fire No. 1 for residents to keep in mind the drier-than-normal conditions and dry fuels.
“With the warm and windy conditions we are currently experiencing, use extreme caution if you chose to burn. If you do burn, have at least two ways to put it out,” the warning stated. “Monitor your fire at all times and do not hesitate to call 911 if your fire gets away from you.”
Create a defensible space of at least 30 feet around your house removing any combustible materials. Examples of this are woodpiles, overgrown vegetation, low-hanging tree branches, vehicles and boats.
Clean up dead or dying plants, branches, leaves and needles.
Ground cover should be fire resistant. Examples of this include asphalt, rock, mulch, high moisture plants that grow close to the ground.
Cut or mow grass down to less than 4 inches.
Shrubs and trees should be maintained and in a green condition. Trees should be pruned up 6 to 10 feet from the ground.
Ensure the road or driveway to your home is clear of debris, dense vegetation, and low hanging branches. At least 14 feet of clearance is required for emergency response vehicles.
Source: Southwest Polk Rural Fire Protection District
Dallas Fire & EMS spokeswoman April Welsh said people need to be aware of their surroundings — including vegetation and structures — when burning, and have a water source readily available.
“We are experiencing drier-than-normal weather conditions right now, and there is a lot of vegetation that is quickly growing,” Welsh said.
May was particularly dry, said Jon Bonk, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland.
He said rainfall at the McMinnville Airport during May was 0.021 of an inch. That’s well below the 30-year averages measured from 1981 to 2010.
“The normal value that you would see for a month of May during that 30-year period is 2.24 inches,” Bonk said. “Comparing to last year, last year we had 1.96 inches during the month of May.”
At the Salem Airport, rain measured 0.21 inch in May. Last year, 1.64 inches fell in May.
Bonk said May and June are critical months for determining the severity of the upcoming fire season.
“With regard to fire danger, it really is the month of May and June that commonly dictate what kind of threat there is from wildfires for the following summer,” he said. “The winter months themselves don’t tend to have as much of a significance.”
On the other hand, the same weather conditions that kept May dry might lessen the chance of wildfires starting. Lightening is the most common cause, so if we aren’t having thunderstorms, fewer wildfires are possible.
The longer-term climate report from NWS’ Climate Prediction Center for June, July and August was released on May 17. It said we’re likely in for more warm amd dry weather. Bonk said it forecasts a 50 percent chance of warmer-than-normal temperatures, compared to 25 percent change of cooler and 25 percent of average temperatures. Predictions have a 40 percent chance of drier than normal conditions, compared to 30 percent chance of near normal and 30 percent of above normal amounts.
“Basically, they are saying that it’s most likely that we’re going to see above normal temperatures in June, July and August and then there’s a slightly favoring of below normal precipitation,” Bonk said. “I would say that at least that the climate signals are leaning towards warmer and drier-than-normal conditions heading towards the first two-thirds of summer.”