032819-adh-nws-Santiam Park Fire06-my (copy)

Smoke chokes out the sun in this week's wildfire near the North Santiam State Recreational Area. 

It would appear that not everyone got the memo, expressed as recently as a few days ago in an editorial on this page, about how February's unusually wet weather might have helped to put a damper on this year's fire season.

But this week's shockingly early fire near the North Santiam State Recreational Area serves as an important reminder: Fire season in the mid-valley now lasts almost year-round. 

The cause of the fire, which was first reported on Tuesday afternoon in Marion County and then jumped the river into Linn County, still is not known. (The blaze was reportedly in an area that recently had been slash-burned, but it's not known if that's a factor.)

What is known for certain is that as of Wednesday, the fire had impacted nearly 200 acres of brush and timber, making it a large blaze by mid-valley standards. Worse, the fire threatened almost 50 homes and 30 outbuildings and prompted evacuations, another rarity in the mid-valley. Fortunately, no structures were damaged in the blaze, and no injuries were reported.

But it could well be that fires forcing evacuations will become a more frequent occurrence in the mid-valley. And if fire season now is stretching out to fill almost the entire calendar, that means we need to respect it year-round, instead of assuming, as we sometimes do, that some seasons are somehow immune to wildfire. 

One of the first casualties of the Santiam Park fire was open burning season: A burn ban was issued in a hurry in both Linn and Marion counties and will be in effect until further notice. That "further notice" could be a long stretch — and even if the ban gets lifted soon, you can be sure that additional bans will be in place before we get too much deeper into spring.

All of which goes to prove that it's never a bad time to review your preparations for wildfire — and to remind yourself, as the warmer weather lures you out into our wildlands, about the necessity to be as careful with fire now as you would normally be in August, at the peak of fire season.

Officials this week suggested that the start of spring is a good time for homeowners to make sure their properties have an extra measure of protection against wildfire — so here are a few extra chores you could consider adding to your spring break list.

• Keep roofs, gutters, and eaves clear of all leaves, pine needles, and other flammable debris.

• Remove dead vegetation for a minimum of 30 feet around your house.

• Prune trees and have grass kept short and green to keep fire on the ground and more manageable by fire crews.

• Call before you burn yard debris. Check with your local fire agency or air protection authority to learn if there are any burning restrictions and if a permit is required. (In the case of Linn County, wait until the burn ban is lifted.)

The early signs certainly suggest that, despite our wet February, this year's fire season could be another rough one. Don't do anything that will make it worse for you, your neighbors or for the mid-valley's firefighters. (mm)

A tribute for Waibel

Mona Waibel, the former mayor of Sweet Home and civic leader who died last year, set a high mark for community volunteerism.

So it is fitting that the Presidents Club VIP Awards, given each year for service to the Sweet Home community, now bear Waibel's name. The Mona Waibel Hero Awards were presented Saturday at the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce awards banquet.

Bob Dalton of the Presidents Club (and Waibel's son-in-law), put it well: “Mona defined what volunteering was about. Her whole life here in Sweet Home was dedicated to community service and making our community better. She broke down the walls of indifference to get things done, found good in everyone and wasn’t afraid to speak up for the betterment of all. She did it with enthusiasm, respect and a smile, the same qualities that our recipients here tonight share.” (mm)

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