Despite occasional downpours recently, fire season officially starts Wednesday in Northeast Oregon.

The designation by the Oregon Department of Forestry applies to about 2 million acres of private and state forests and rangelands protected by the Forestry Department in Baker, Union, Wallowa and Umatilla counties as well as small parts of Malheur, Morrow and Grant counties. It doesn’t affect national forests or public land overseen by the BLM.

The Forestry Department declares fire season each year with a goal of reducing the number of human-caused fires.

So far this year the agency has reported eight human-caused fires in the Northeast District. The blazes burned 27.4 acres.

When fire season is in effect debris burning is prohibited on affected lands, including all burn barrels and debris piles.

Typically the Forestry Department allows debris burning to continue for about a month after fire season takes effect, but this year the burning ban coincides with the start of the fire season.

“This change is an effort to mitigate COVID-19 exposure potential for the public and our firefighters,” said Joe Hessel, district forester for the agency’s Northeast District. “We also want to be sensitive to negative smoke impacts for our vulnerable populations, and reduce the resource commitments typically associated with escaped fires.”

Hessel said the periods of cool, damp weather over the past six weeks or so has contributed to a lush crop of grass in places.

“These fuels will dry out quickly with the hotter and drier weather,” he said. “These flashy fuels will often carry fire rapidly when they have dried out.”

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