SWEET HOME — A record dry summer in the Willamette Valley has led to an extended fire season — and continuation of the backyard burning ban — according to Craig Pettinger of the Oregon Department of Forestry — Sweet Home Unit.

“Usually, we’ve had rain by this time,” Pettinger said. “Unfortunately, there is no relief in sight. There are some hints that maybe mid-week we might get something, but it’s not looking good.”

The Sweet Home area has gone more than 100 days without measurable rainfall.

From July 1 through Sept. 30, only a quarter-inch of rain was recorded at Portland International Airport, less than half the previous record.

A half-inch of rain was recorded in July at Oregon State University’s Hyslop weather station between Albany and Corvallis. Another 0.37 inches was recorded in August and September.

The Willamette Valley usually receives about 3 inches of rain in October.

The mid-valley forecast through Tuesday calls for highs in the low 70s and lows in the 30s, with no precipitation in sight.

Pettinger said he has released his summer firefighting crew, but is encouraging many of the college students going to school nearby, to work weekends.

“We’re at about 60 percent staffing, which means we’ve cancelled all days off,” Pettinger said. “Everyone goes to every fire right now.”

Pettinger said the long, wet spring that went well into July, extended the start of fire season and also created more than usual grassy materials that have long since dried out.

“We had 25 fire responses by September and we had 25 responses in September,” Pettinger said. “We had three more responses on Thursday,” Pettinger said.

The Industrial Fire Level that had dropped to a Level II for a brief time, has jumped back up to a Level III, Pettinger said, which means only a few specialized logging operations are allowed.

“Most industrial landowners have also shut their gates to the general public,” Pettinger said. “Most are saying no entry, but a select few are allowing walk-ins,” Pettinger said. “Most fires are human-caused and the landowners hope to reduce their risk of fire by cutting down on human interactions on their properties.”

Pettinger said most fires have been contained to fewer than two acres due to quick initial attacks.

“We put our guys through some very good training,” Pettinger said. “It’s really unheard of when you start getting the kind of fire response numbers we’re seeing. Luckily, the fire calls are coming one at a time, not two at a time.”

Pettinger said the district has extended its contract with Weyerhaeuser for emergency helicopter use.

The South Cascade District protects more than 1.1 million acres of private and public lands from wildfire within Lane and Linn counties. The Western Lane District protects 750,650 acres in western Lane County.

Alex Paul is the Linn County reporter for the Democrat-Herald. He can be contacted at 541-812-6114 or alex.paul@lee.net.

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