Seasonal Fire Restrictions Explained

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Every year in late spring, all of Hood River and Wasco Counties come under restrictions which are aimed at reducing or eliminating certain fire threats.  The restrictions are a matter of State law, under the jurisdiction of Oregon Department of Forestry, and by cooperative agreement with local Fire Districts.

ODF has several layers of these restrictions which many people do not understand correctly.

Most of us seem to know that there is a summer “Burn Ban”, disallowing all outdoor burning.  The ban is officially declared no later than July 1, by order from the County Commission.  A less-known partial ban precedes the July 1 cutoff, usually by a couple of weeks, sometimes for only a few days, by administrative decision of ODF’s Unit Forester.  During the partial ban, approved burn barrels and incinerators can be used with a valid permit before 11AM, but burn piles are forbidden.

Confusingly, ODF refers to this partial ban as “Fire Season”.  When you see their signs saying, “Caution, Fire Season in Effect” that means it’s the partial ban.  When the signs change to “All Burning Prohibited”, that’s the outright ban.

Then there are those bright fluorescent signs that show up about the same time (but actually have nothing to do with the “Burn Ban”), with symbols forbidding all kinds of things: campfires, fireworks, smoking, off-road driving, chainsaws.

Except if you get out and read the sign, most of those aren’t actually forbidden, just restricted.  Chainsaws, for instance, are OK except between 1PM and 8PM and subject to further restrictions.  The details of those restrictions can be found in ODF’s Regulated Use Proclamation and Terms.

The orange/pink/green signs reflect what ODF calls Regulated Closure, which goes into effect each year by proclamation, based on conditions, and quite independently of the two phases of burn ban.

It’s these signs which most folks seem to interpret as marking the “Burn Ban”, but they are not the same thing.

This year (2015), Fire Season went into effect June 5, the Regulated Closure went into effect June 19, and the Burn Ban went into effect July 1.

Finally, ODF has a completely different set of rules for commercial operations, mainly logging, phased according to local determinations of conditions expressed as Industrial Fire Precaution Levels, or IFPL.  During most of the summer (IFPL 4), commercial operators are completely shut down, even though a private land owner can run a saw before 1PM.  For an explanation of IFPL and rules, see ODF’s website.

Oh, and all these restrictions are phased out in the fall on separate schedules and only when conditions allow.  Note that the fluorescent signs coming down is NOT the end of the summer burn ban, it’s the end of the Regulated Closure, which usually occurs simultaneously with or after the burn ban being lifted.

Confused?

So am I.

There are any number of ways one can think of to simplify all this, but ODF chooses to do it this way and the rest of us are along for the ride.

In practice, it’s probably a good idea for most people to continue to think that the Regulated Closure signs announce the timing of the Burn Ban.

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