BEND, OR -- Despite Public Use Restrictions, Forest Service officials report a troubling increase in the number of human-caused fires in Central Oregon.
Kassidy Kern, with the Deschutes National Forest, tells KBND they take the extreme fire conditions very seriously. "We were at 10% of our normal snow pack heading into the fire season, then we had a very dry spring – with the exception of a few thunderstorms that came through in May. So, our brush is about one to two months ahead of their normal moisture levels, and our sagebrush in particular is currently at its lowest moisture level in 7 years. So, we look at those fuel moisture contents and we realize those forest fuels are really receptive to fire right now."
Due to the rise in human-caused fires, they’re increasing law enforcement patrols in the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests and Crooked River National Grasslands. "Just the Deschutes National Forest alone is 1.6 million acres, but obviously we’re not as concerned in areas were people don’t tend to camp. We have seen a lot of abandoned or escaped campfires, that’s one of the major fire responses we’ve been having recently. So, we’re going to where we know people are going to be."
Of the 208 wildfires reported in Central Oregon so far this year, Kern says more than half were human-caused. "When we have those escaped campfires, or abandoned campfires, unfortunately, if they’re in an area where that brush can catch, it will. And, that puts a lot of unneeded pressure on our firefighters to go out and take care of these human-caused starts, when we really do want them patrolling, but also looking for, in some cases, holdovers from lightning." While most of the human-caused fires appear accidental, she says several are being investigated as suspicious.