Miners Jubilee weekend offered a brief, and relatively minor, respite to the heatwave that descended on Baker County after Independence Day.
But though the temperature on Friday, Saturday and Sunday didn’t quite reach 90 degrees after eight straight days in the 90s, the weather brought no rainfall to even temporarily curb the potential wildfire hazard.
We use the word “potential” here for a particular reason.
Although the hot, dry weather that has dominated July has created conditions conducive to a fire spreading, the sunbaked grasses, shrubs and trees are no more likely to spontaneously combust than they were several weeks ago.
Fires, in almost every case, still require a spark (we understand that microbial activity in haystacks can create fires, but we’re confining our discussion here to more conventionally kindled blazes).
We’ve noticed, in reading media coverage and public commentary about the fires that have already ravaged parts of Oregon — most notably the Substation fire near The Dalles, which killed one resident who was trying to protect a neighbor’s property — a sort of resignation regarding destructive blazes. The sense seems to be that such fires are inevitable, and that the warming climate, and the resulting shrinkage of average snowpacks, mean Oregon will endure more and bigger blazes that will start earlier in the summer.
Certainly there is nothing we can do to prevent lightning, which supplies the aforementioned spark for more than half the wildfires most years in Northeastern Oregon (and something like 80 percent, typically, on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest).
But human-caused fires are absolutely preventable. And most of the big blazes in Oregon this year — including the Substation fire — were caused by people rather than by lightning. The hot, dry and windy weather contributed to these fires’ growth, but the weather didn’t cause them.
The advice that most of us have heard, from Smokey and from other sources less, well, furry, bears repeating, so to speak.
Be careful out in the woods and the rangelands. Some precautions are obvious — if you light a fire, when that’s allowed, do so in a fire ring or other place designed for the purpose. Watch for embers and never leave a fire unattended until it’s dead out. Don’t toss cigarettes from a car window.
But other potential firestarters aren’t quite so obvious. Mufflers and catalytic converters on low-slung vehicles can easily ignite dry grass or brush. Even a discarded glass bottle can concentrate sunlight and start a fire.
The point here is that we’re not helpless. Yes, it’s hot and dry and occasionally windy. But hereabouts that trio of adjectives pretty aptly describes July and August. We’ve gotten through plenty of hot and dry summers without having any big blazes. If we’re all cautious, there’s no reason that can’t happen again.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.