Fire restrictions imposed early in Central Oregon

PORTLAND — Officials worried by early-season wildfires and extra-dry potential fuel for more of them have imposed early restrictions on state-protected lands in Central Oregon.

A grass fire started Thursday when a bird got into an electrical box and sparks leaped out, blackening a hillside of more than a square mile and burning within yards of houses in Heppner in Morrow County. Firefighters knocked it back without damage or injuries.

“It burnt clear to the edge of town,” said Fire Chief Rusty Estes told the East Oregonian. “That’s as close as I ever want it to get.”

Heppner is a town of about 1,300 people and the seat of Morrow County, one of those affected by the early restrictions.

Crews Friday were battling a growing fire in a Klamath County logging operation east of the Cascade Range. The fire area had grown to more than a square mile, and the Department of Forestry said gusty winds and rough terrain made it likely the fire would grow larger.

To the west, hikers on a landmark in Jackson County, Upper Table Rock, headed back to the trailhead early Thursday afternoon when fire broke out in a mowed hayfield.

Bulldozers and fire crews dug lines around the fire, which burned nearly to the rim of the volcanic plateau, the Medford Mail Tribune reported.

The fires are early in a season that has given fire bosses reason for concern.

District Forester George Ponte said restrictions would go into effect Saturday morning in Central Oregon, much of the land east of the Cascades, on the Columbia Plateau and along the western end of the Blue Mountains.

He said live trees and downed logs are both quite dry for the time of year, so fire restrictions typical of July or August are going into effect now.

“We’re basically three to four weeks ahead of schedule,” he said.

He said restrictions apply on private and non-federal public forests in 12 counties: Harney, Morrow, Grant, Wheeler, Gilliam, Hood River, Wasco, Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson, and small portions of Umatilla and Lake.

Among the restrictions: No smoking in vehicles, except on improved roads; no open fires such as campfires or charcoal fires, except in designated areas; and no chain saws between 1 and 8 p.m.

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