: Courtesy of MtHoodTerritory.com

What You Need to Know About Wildfires

All of your pressing questions answered.
May 31, 2018

Oregon is a paradise of verdant forests, which climb high to snowy peaks and descend to the shores of the Pacific and the edges of the high desert. But all of this beauty comes with the risk of wildfires.

Like many states in the West, Oregon has seen an increase in the size of wildfires in recent years.  While natural wildfires are a part of healthy forest ecosystems, uncontrolled wildfires caused by people can endanger lives, homes and vital natural resources. In 2017 human-caused wildfires burned around 228,000 acres of forests, according to Keep Oregon Green. Wildfires that year forced thousands of Oregonians to evacuate and destroyed or threatened homes and businesses. Those fires were almost entirely preventable. 

If you’re traveling in Oregon, it’s good to know what to do if a wildfire occurs during your trip. You can help prevent wildfires too. Here are some frequently asked questions to keep your Oregon road trip safe and most importantly, fun.

By Satoshi Eto
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When do wildfires occur in Oregon?

Wildfires happen most frequently during the hot, dry months of July, August and September, but fires can occur anytime of year if temperatures are unusually high and rainfall is low.

Is it safe to visit Oregon when wildfires occur?

Yes, it is safe to visit Oregon when wildfires are happening or could happen. Oregon is a big state — wildfires in one location often have no impact outside a limited area and rarely cause major travel disruptions. While wildfires are not unusual throughout the West, it’s still good to know what to do if a wildfire happens while you’re visiting.

I just found out there’s an active fire and I’m about to come to Oregon; what should I do?

Visit the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center web page to see if the area you plan to visit is affected by the fire. Go to TripCheck, overseen by the Oregon Department of Transportation, to check for potential road closures or detours.

Generally, what do I need to know when I’m traveling to Oregon in the summer?

Wherever you go in the state during the hot and dry months, make sure you plan ahead — check for information about road and trail closures as well as potential disruption to tourist sites and travel services. The list of resources below will help you be prepared; keep the list handy during your trip.

Where do I go for the most up-to-date and accurate information?

  • The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center page includes a large fire map displaying active fires as well as a daily briefing and forecast on weekly fire potential. An interactive map on the same page is updated daily during fire season to show perimeters of any fires.
  • To plan ahead, you can check out daily, monthly and extended outlooks for wildfire potential at the National Weather Service The regularly updated fire weather section is a wealth of information, including current and extended national wildfire outlooks. You can also view a hazards map for flood, heat and weather warnings here.
  • Smoke from wildfires can affect air quality and impact outdoor recreation, occasionally in areas distanced from the fires themselves. Oregon’s handy air quality blog— maintained by various federal, state, local and tribal agencies — contains health information, air quality forecasts and other details useful for planning activities during your visit.
  • The Oregon Department of Forestry blog has helpful information about fires occurring on state land and statewide initiatives to prevent wildfires.

If I’m driving during my trip, how can I be prepared?

Visit TripCheck, an informative website from the Oregon Department of Transportation. TripCheck offers live traffic conditions statewide as well as road cameras, weather reports, closure alerts, detours and incidents.

And just like any road trip, plan ahead in case you are inconvenienced by a road closure or detour. Keep the gas tank full; bring a physical Oregon road map for travel in areas with limited cell reception; make sure you have a spare tire and jack; and carry water, food, a first aid kit and a blanket.

Cottonwood Canyon State Park

How do wildfires start?

Wildfires are a part of a healthy forest ecosystem, but many others are caused by people and can be prevented. Most human-caused wildfires are started accidentally by people with fireworks, firearms, cigarettes, campfires, burn piles, and even the sparks from chainsaws and automobiles. Wildfires can also be ignited naturally by lighting strikes. Dry vegetation, high temperatures and strong winds make landscapes more vulnerable to wildfires starting and spreading.

Are campfires allowed in Oregon?

Campfires are allowed in campgrounds and established firepits and sometimes in the backcountry. To find out if you can have a campfire, check with the forest district or agency overseeing the area you’ll be camping in, and visit the Oregon Department of Forestry map of fire restrictions. Always follow safe campfire practices: Clear the area, circle the pit with rocks, keep the fire small, only burn wood and monitor the fire at all times. Make sure the fire is completely out before you go to bed or go home. For more helpful tips, check out these recreation tips from Keep Oregon Green.

How can I find out if my campsite is near an active fire?

View the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center’s interactive map to see if your campsite is near an active fire.

How can I help prevent wildfires when I’m visiting Oregon?

You can help by being a thoughtful visitor. Here are a few quick tips:

  • Don’t use fireworks and dispose of cigarettes carefully.
  • Abide by trail and road closures as well as bans on ammunition, campfires and sky lanterns.
  • If campfires are allowed, make sure you set up and tend the fire properly and put it out completely.
  • Don’t drive over dry grass and make sure to get your car, motorcycle or ATV serviced before your trip.
  • If you see somebody else not acting fire-safe, say something.

Visit the Keep Oregon Green website for more helpful information.

If I see a fire starting while I’m hiking or camping, what should I do?

If you spot a fire, get yourself to a safe location and call 911.

By Sumio Koizumi

How can I find out about trail closures in the Columbia River Gorge?

Many hiking trails and campgrounds remain closed following the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, which burned nearly 50,000 acres of forest. Check here for updates to trail closures and information about alternative hikes in the Gorge.

Bookmark this page.

We will update this page throughout wildfire season with further information, helpful resources and travel alerts.

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