Ag burn or wildfire?

In peak fire season, here’s how to tell the difference

Agricultural burn

Photo by Ben Mitchell.
Agricultural burn

As the Hood River Valley enters peak wildfire season and everyone grows accustomed to the countywide burn ban that started July 1, many residents are on the lookout for fires and are often prompted to call the fire department as soon as they see a column of smoke beginning to wind upward into the clear, blue summer sky.

Jon Gehrig, wildfire prevention coordinator for Hood River County Fire Services, says sharp-eyed citizens are a firefighter’s best friend and that the “first defense against a budding wildfire is often a citizen seeing smoke.”

However, not every fire seen this time of year is a wildfire or an illegal burn. A sizable fire that burned last Saturday near Pine Grove was large enough to send smoke across the valley to Rt. 281, creating haze and prompting a few concerned calls — including one from the Hood River News — to be placed to local fire stations.

The fire, it turned out, was a permitted burn conducted by an orchard owner who was disposing of plant debris.

“Even though we are in a burn ban right now, farmers can get a permit to burn fire blight, a systematic disease that causes fruit trees to look blackened,” Gehrig explained. “Right controlling the blight involves pruning the affected branches and burning them to destroy the pathogen.”

While Gehrig is by no means dissuading people from contacting fire departments if they see some suspicious smoke, he said there are certain things callers should keep in mind when phoning in fires and noted that there are some discernible differences between the characteristics of an agricultural burn and a wildfire:

Geography: Where do you see the smoke? Seeing smoke in or near an orchard is less of a concern than smoke on Mount Hood or Fir Mountain.

Topography: Agricultural burning will typically be on flat ground — if you see smoke in steep terrain, it’s far more likely the fire isn’t supposed to be there.

Type of smoke: Reasonably speaking, smoke looks like smoke. However, there are four defining smoke characteristics: color, volume, velocity and density. Agricultural fires typically have a wetter fuel and smoke will typically be white in color once burning, whereas a wildfire tends to look more brown or tan, and a house or car fire will be black (although keep in mind that all smoke can eventually turn black, depending on the intensity of the fire). Agricultural burning will also yield a more consistent smoke column in terms of density, volume and velocity. The fire is controlled and is in one place, and smoke plumes tend to be steady and are not turbulent. Turbulent or moving smoke is typically something that you should be more concerned with.

Gehrig added that people pay attention to the time of day, as fires are more likely to start in the afternoon as temperatures rise and relative humidity falls, drying out fuels. For this reason, agricultural burning is only allowed during the morning hours.

“We’ll likely continue to see such agricultural burns in the coming weeks and the public should be aware that this will happen from 6 a.m. to 11a.m.,” Gehrig advised.

“We really need citizens to be on the offense for fires, but aware that agricultural fires still occur in the summer,” he added.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge



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