Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

The rain that doused Baker County earlier this week was no mirage.

But neither is the warm sunshine that quickly replaced the sodden clouds.

And sunshine, not downpours, has been the defining characteristic of this spring. Until Wednesday, in fact, this spring was the driest in the county since World War II.

With the whole of summer yet to come, the odds are high that the fire danger will escalate quickly as July progresses.

Which is not to say big wildfires are a near certainty in Baker County.

Lightning starts most fires on the public land that makes up about half of the county's 2 million acres, and there's no correlation between high fire danger and the prevalence of lightning.

Last summer, for instance, the fire danger escalated to the extreme level for several weeks but thunderstorms were relatively rare, and the wildfire season was tranquil.

On the county's 1 million acres of privately owned land, however, people cause about as many fires as lightning does.

Worse yet, human-caused fires, unlike lightning blazes, can literally happen out of a clear blue sky. Firefighters can't predict where lightning will strike, of course, but they can track where ithasstruck recently, so lightning fires rarely show up in expected places.

On the positive side of the ledger, human-caused fires, unlike those ignited by lightning, can be prevented.

In most cases that prevention requires little more than common sense. If no camper ever walked away from a still-smoldering fire, for instance, fire crews would have one less source of blazes to deal with.

If recreationists are equally conscientious with other common causes of combustion - discarded cigarettes, fireworks (they're illegal on public land anyway), driving vehicles through tall, dry grass - we might just make it through another hot, dry summer without enduring the sort of devastating, multi-square-mile blaze that has become common across the West in the past couple decades.

That would be good for the county - for our forests and rangelands, and for the people who risk their lives trying to douse the flames.