Wildfire season begins amid heat, drought in SW Oregon

The wildfire season has begun in Southwestern Oregon. U.S. Forest Service Photo/Kari Greer, File

By GEORGE PLAVEN Capital Press

MEDFORD — Wildfire season is beginning a month ahead of schedule in Southwest Oregon as drought conditions intensify across the region.

The state Department of Forestry declared the beginning of fire season May 1 in the Southwest Oregon District, which includes 1.8 million acres of state-protected lands in Jackson and Josephine counties.

It is the earliest start to a fire season in the district since April 18, 1988, and only the third time since 2000 that fire season was called before June 1. Brian Ballou, spokesman for ODF in Medford, said firefighters responded to 25 fires in April — about five times more than usual for the month.

“We’re used to chasing escaped burns and (slash) fires usually in the latter half of May. That’s just normal,” Ballou said. “Then we’ll start fire season sometime in early June. But this year, we’re just a month off, if not a little more than a month.”

One fire in particular raised red flags for the district. On April 21, a landowner was burning brush about 4 miles north of the city of Rogue River when gusty winds fanned the flames out of control, spreading quickly over 20 acres. Most years, fires only burn a few acres in April, Ballou said.