: Courtesy of MtHoodTerritory.com

What You Need to Know About Wildfires

All of your pressing questions answered.
May 31, 2018 (Updated January 5, 2021)

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.

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. With COVID-19 spreading in communities, it’s also important to know the facts about COVID-19 and come prepared.

Oregon Wildfire Impacts

The 2020 fire season had devastating impacts on our natural resources and outdoor recreation sites. Right now, state and federal land management agencies are working to assess the on-the-ground impacts. We are in the early stages of making plans on how to help communities recover and ways for Oregonians to reconnect with their favorite places when it is safe to do so. For now, we need your help by continuing to practice responsible recreation by respecting closures, which are there both for the safety of the public and to protect resources.

Recovery. Recovery efforts focus on repairing and rebuilding damaged and lost infrastructure, restoring ecosystems, and supporting economic recovery of local business and affected communities. Right now, many public lands that burned in 2020 are still closed to public access. This is necessary to protect natural and cultural resources, as well as to protect the public, staff, and first responders.

Reconnection. For areas that were damaged by the fires and have since reopened, visitors should expect a changed experience out on the landscape. This could include hard-to-navigate stands of burned trees or eroded slopes that lack signage or missing sections of trail. Plan ahead to ensure the area you want to go to is open. Play it safe by choosing activities that are within your comfort zone. As fire damaged areas reopen, they may have unmarked hazards and may be more challenging in rescue situations. Lastly, please be patient – recovery will take a long time. Keep an eye open for opportunities to volunteer on stewardship projects in recovering areas.

Resilience. Wildfires are a natural occurrence on the landscape, but natural areas impacted by the 2020 wildfires may take decades to recover due to severity and size. Agency partners are assessing the impacts and integrating long-term resilience into the recovery efforts.

Reimagining. We’ll have the opportunity to reimagine the connections between communities and their public lands and waterways in the months, weeks, and years to come. Some places may not come back exactly the way they were – either because rebuilding is not possible, or we can envision something better.

For the latest updates on areas impacted and evacuation zones, please see the map below or click on the  resources below:

From relief funds to donation drop-offs to offering your time and services, here are ways you can help Oregon’s wildfire-affected communities right now.


Here are some frequently asked questions to keep your Oregon experience safe.

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.

During COVID-19, visitors are asked to stay local to their communities. Consider day trips near your home base, so you’re more prepared for unexpected closures. Land managers also recommend avoiding the more popular sites and peak hours. A new Oregon web resource, Parkpulse.io  surfaces recreation points near your location with details about each site’s crowding potential and COVID-19 stats.

I just found out there’s an active fire and I’m about travel somewhere in 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. 

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.
  • The state’s COVID-19 resource page contains the latest information about county phases, business requirements and public health recommendations from the Oregon Health Authority.

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.

Guidance around travel may vary county by county. It is important for Oregonians, and out-of-state visitors to always plan ahead, be patient and flexible. Call businesses before you visit to make sure they are open. Many attractions and businesses that have reopened are doing so at limited capacity, may have different hours of operation and reservations may be required. 

Remember it is required to wear face coverings in public indoor spaces in all counties. Face coverings are also required in outdoor public spaces where physical distance cannot be maintained; exceptions include children under 5 and people with medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from wearing face coverings. The state has also released general guidelines public should follow regardless of where they live or what phase of reopening their community is in.

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.

Campfires are allowed in campgrounds and established fire pits and sometimes in the backcountry.

Are campfires allowed in Oregon?

Campfires are allowed in campgrounds and established fire pits and sometimes in the backcountry. Campfire bans may be implemented if there are safety concerns. 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:

  • Know before you go. Research conditions for the area surrounding your campground. Fire restrictions may in place at the park, county or state level. Understand the meaning of fire danger levels.
  • Select the right spot. Only build campfires in the existing fire ring in your campsite. Fire ring locations are carefully considered and park rangers clear vegetation around rings to create a safe buffer zone.
  • Keep your campfire small. Add firewood in small amounts and maintain campfire flames at knee height or roughly two feet high. This helps prevent ash or embers from becoming airborne, especially during dry summer months. A large fire may cast hot embers long distances. If you see the wind stirring up embers from your fire, play it safe and extinguish it.
  • Always have water and a shovel on site. To put out your fire, drown the flames with water and stir the embers to make sure everything is wet. The stirring step is important: Ash and wood debris often maintain heat and embers unless they are drowned out. Repeat the process until the fire is dead — if it is too hot to touch, it is too hot to leave. Make sure the fire is completely out before you go to bed or go home.
  • Attend to your campfire at all times. Many accidental fires have started because campers left their fire unattended for “just a minute.” Stay with your campfire from start to finish until it is dead out, as required by law. That ensures any escaped sparks or embers can be extinguished quickly.
  • Use water to extinguish beach campfires, not sand. Covering the fire with sand will insulate the coals, keeping them hot enough to burn someone hours or even days later. Beach campfires should be started on open sand away from driftwood or vegetation.
  • Never use gasoline or other accelerants. Don’t use flammable or combustible liquids, such as gasoline, propane or light fluid, to start or increase your campfire.
  • Burn only wood. State regulations prohibit the open burning of any material that creates dense, toxic smoke or noxious odors. Burning paper and cardboard can also easily fly up to start new fires. Also be sure to only use local wood, either bought where you’ll burn it or gathered on site where permitted: Hauling firewood to a remote campground can potentially transport invasive species.
  • For propane fire rings, follow the same safety precautions you would with a log-based fire. Propane fire rings should be place in, on or directly next to installed park fire rings.
  • Consider alternatives to a campfire this summer. Portable camp stoves are a safer option to campfires at any time of year. Areas that prohibit campfires outside maintained campgrounds with established fire pits often allow camp stoves.

Make sure everyone in your campsite is familiar with campfire safety — including children. 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.
  • Never fly a drone near wildfire areas; it can seriously hamper firefighters’ efforts.

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.

When can we visit post-fire environments?

Once it’s safe to travel to an area affected by wildfire, visitors and Oregonians can explore the areas that were impacted to witness the power of nature to regenerate itself after a fire event, and also support communities by visiting local businesses. Check our travel alerts page for a list of local resources to confirm when it’s safe to travel to an affected area.

How does smoke affect travel in Oregon?

Wildfires can send smoke into communities and affect air quality. Impacts can vary greatly day-by-day and even hour-by-hour due to shifting weather patterns. Because of this, anyone concerned about air quality is encouraged to consult local resources as close to their trip departure as possible. Learn more about wildfires and air quality here.

By Satoshi Eto

How can we help communities affected by wildfires?

Once fires are fully contained and it’s safe to travel, make plans to visit areas impacted by fires. You’ll not only create memories to cherish but will help support one of the more than 112,000 Oregonians employed in the tourism industry.

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 and the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions. 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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