State bans camp fires in parks, forestland as fire danger grows

Fire crews from Marion County, formed into Task Force 16, were relieved Saturday, July 17, from service on the Bootleg Fire. This photo from the scene is by Ryan Russell, Keizer Fire District division chief.

4 p.m. WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Additional details about campsites affected and potential fines for violating the ban.

SALEM – Because of high fire danger, those nights of sitting by a campfire and roasting marshmallows just disappeared – at least in Oregon state campgrounds in much of the state.

The Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department announced Wednesday a ban on campfires of any kind in state campgrounds east of Interstate 5. The move hits some of the largest and most popular parks in Oregon – about 2,000 campsites in all.

At the same time, the Oregon Forestry Department imposed a similar ban on state forests in the state east of the freeway.

The restriction takes hold on Thursday, July 22.

“This includes charcoal fires, cooking fires, warming fires, charcoal briquettes, pellet grills, candles, tiki torches and other devices that emit flames or embers. Portable cooking stoves or propane lanterns using liquefied or bottle fuels are allowed, though propane fire pits are not,” the state agencies said in a joint announcement.

The statement said Oregon is already enduring several large wildfires and on average 7 out of 10 wildfires are caused by people.

“These additional restrictions are intended to help reduce the number of human-caused fire starts. This will allow firefighters to focus on the existing large fires as well as new blazes that may emerge,” according to the announcement.

The agencies said that “the step of banning campfires east of Interstate 5 was deemed a necessary measure to protect life and property in what is already a very challenging and dangerous fire season.”

Campers are urged to take meals with them that don’t require cooking.

Chris Havel of the Parks Department said campers can face a warning, citation, or expulsion from the park if they violate the ban. They can also be fined up to $2,000.

No wildfires this season have been traced to campgrounds as the starting point.

“We’ve had close calls,” Havel said. “The last thing we want to do is be, though, is the reason some fire crew has to rush to a new fire, even if the odds are low.”

So far, he said, there are no plans to close campgrounds except in the face of an evacuation order. He said the state closes a campground if it falls under a Level 2 evacuation order – get ready. That is a step sooner than mandated evacuations under a Level 3.