From bad to worse: Drought conditions could fuel nasty wildfire season


Despite recent rains and snow in the mountains, this year’s fire season is shaping up to be a challenging one, especially here in central and eastern Oregon.

Drought conditions that contributed to last summer’s Bootleg Fire, one of the largest in state history, are worse this year.

Governor Kate Brown has already declared drought in 15 Oregon counties, including Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson. It’s the most drought declarations this early in the year during Brown’s two terms as governor.

“This will likely result in a challenging fire season, as fires that start in drought stricken areas will be very difficult to suppress with so much dry vegetation,” said Mike Shaw, Fire Protection Division Chief at the Oregon Department of Forestry.

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Recent rain and mountain snow have delayed the start of fire season but as the weather warms and dries, fire season will come very quickly.

The early drought declarations allows the Oregon Department of Forestry to hire more firefighters earlier than usual. The declarations also authorize the State Fire Marshal and  emergency managers to bring more aerial firefighting resources into a state of readiness.

“In terms of risk, I think Oregon sits at even larger risk than it did in 2021 due to the expanding drought and mega drought across Oregon; specifically south-central, central and moving into eastern Oregon,” said Travis Medema, Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal.

RELATED: Governor Brown announces drought declarations

Locally, the Deschutes National Forest is seeking public comments on a plan to reduce the risk of fires burning into Bend from the forest along China Hat Road.

“We have a history of fires getting established in this area and then, if the right winds are on them, then they can move quite rapidly and they can move far,” said Kevin Larkin, Fort Rock District Ranger. “We want to prevent that risk; we want to make sure we don’t have another Skeleton fire where we lose another 19 homes.”

Written comments are now being accepted on the Cabin Butte Vegetation Management Project, which proposes thinning, prescribed burning and mowing treatments on nearly 400 square miles of national forest bordering private lands on Bend’s south side.

Gov. Brown asked Oregonians to “please be smart and be careful when you are enjoying our outdoors.” 


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