Malheur County under red flag warning due to possible thunderstorms Wednesday

Recruits attend the Bureau of Land Management Vale District annual firefighter training school in Unity, Oregon, in June 2020. (The Enterprise/Rachel Parsons)

Malheur County is facing a red flag warning from the National Weather Service for “critical fire weather conditions” because of possible thunderstorms starting on Wednesday, prompting the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to announce new restrictions for the public on its lands.

The red flag warning is in effect from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday because of the threat of thunderstorms and potential wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph with the storms, according to the National Weather Service in Boise.

The additional BLM restrictions will take effect on Monday, July 29, according to a press release from Vale BLM.

In addition to the BLM Oregon and Washington regional fire prevention order issued in May, the restrictions ban cross-country travel, using campfires, smokers, wood stoves, portable braziers and charcoal briquettes, using exploding targets, tracer and incendiary ammunition, and fireworks or other pyrotechnic devices, according to the release. Liquefied and bottled gas stoves and heaters are allowed as long as they are used within a 10-foot diameter area clear of flammable materials. Smoking outside is only allowed within a 6-foot diameter area without flammable materials.

Driving or parking vehicles or equipment with combustion engines is restricted to areas without vegetation. When using a vehicle wider than 48 inches and heavier than 800 pounds on public lands, the individual must carry a shovel and a one-gallon container of water or fire extinguisher

Violating the conditions can result in a fine of up to $1,000, 12 months in prison or both.

The restrictions apply to all public lands administered by Vale BLM.

In recent days, the Vale BLM responded one human-caused fire Saturday at Snively Hot Springs on the Owyhee River, and a second on Monday on Keeney Pass outside of Vale, said Larisa Bogardus, BLM public affairs officer.

While the exact cause of both fires is still under investigation, “it is believed the Keeney Pass fire was equipment-related,” she said.

“The largest culprit for human-caused fires on lands managed by Vale BLM is equipment,” said Al Crouch, fire mitigation and education specialist, in the release. “Statistically, fires caused by motorized vehicles and trailers are second only to lightning on the district.”

Human-caused fires can be started in other ways, such as by abandoned campfires, sparks from combustion engines, arson, unextinguished cigarettes tossed on the ground or a tire rim sparking on pavement or rock, Bogardus said.

A fire weather watch was issued Monday but replaced by Tuesday’s red flag warning.

Bogardus said a fire weather watch is issued when the combination of dry fuels and weather conditions set the stage for extreme fire danger. A red flag warning is issued when such weather conditions are expected within 24 hours.

She said while the Vale BLM staff constantly monitor weather and ground conditions, the warning signals “the need for heightened awareness.”

Korri Anderson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Boise, said a red flag warning is mainly to inform firefighters and land management agencies to watch for wildfire development and be on standby.

“It basically means that conditions are susceptible to wildfires from lightning,” said Anderson.

News tip? Contact reporter Bailey Lewis at [email protected]


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