Recruits stay busy at the Bureau of Land Management Vale District annual firefighter training school in Unity, Oregon, in June. With the fire danger on public lands increasing, BLM officials want the public to be aware of restrictions and to be safe while hiking or camping. (The Enterprise/Rachel Parsons).

VALE – As the wildfire danger across the county climbs, the Vale District of the Bureau of Land Management wants to remind residents to take precautions when recreating.

The predictable onset of hotter, drier weather is especially significant this year because more people are utilizing public lands because of the Covid virus, said Al Crouch, fire mitigation officer for the Vale BLM.

“Some people we’ve talked to out in the field, a lot react by saying ‘Hey, we really need to get out of the house,’” said Crouch.

Crouch also said as the population in the Treasure Valley continues to grow, more people are heading to local high desert vistas on public land.

“We are starting to see more of that move this way. Every year we’ve seen a little bit of an increase,” said Crouch. “When malls and restaurants and shopping centers are closed what do you do? You go into the woods.”

More people on public land boosts the risk of human-caused fires, said Crouch. So far, this year, he said, the district reported 15 human-caused fires. Usually, he said, by early August the district logs about ten human-caused blazes.

“I am a little concerned because we still have at least a couple of months of fire season left and we are already trending above average,” said Crouch.

During the past 10 years, from January to July, the Vale district averaged about 22 fires, totaling 108,107 acres, according to BLM data.

That means, he said, fire restrictions implemented by the BLM last month are crucial.

The BLM issued new fire mandates July 27 that restrict cross-country travel, campfires, smokers, wood stoves, portable braziers and charcoal briquettes. Tracer and incendiary ammunitions, fireworks or other pyrotechnic devices are also banned.

Liquefied and bottled gas stoves 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, drivers must carry a shovel and a gallon 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.

Crouch said it is the responsibility of the public to know and follow the fire restrictions.

“We don’t inadvertently make this stuff up. Our restrictions are based on our fire statistics about what causes fire on the Vale district,” said Crouch.

Crouch said a good rule regarding fire restrictions is if a fire is an open flame and requires water to put it out, it probably isn’t allowed.

“It is really about taking proactive measures. It is about, if you plan on going out onto public lands you need to be prepared because it is fire season,” he said.

Crouch said campers should ensure their vehicles are “good to go.”

“Vehicles are a leading cause for human-caused fires because we have a lot of highways that crisscross the county,” said Crouch.

Crouch said key items to double-check on vehicles and campers are propane and electrical systems.

Vehicles should be checked to ensure the tires are not under inflated and there are no chains or tie-down straps that drag and can spark.

“It is imperative you check all of your equipment,” said Crouch.

While humans proved to be a lingering hazard in terms of fire, Mother Nature so far this season is in a cooperative mood, said Crouch. Overall, he said, fires sparked by lightning are down for the year.

“We are well below average on the number of fires and that’s because statewide we were 16 percent of normal on the number of lightning strikes we’d normally get in July,” said Crouch.

Crouch said Mother Nature has done a “really good job and managed all of her natural sparks.”

“If we were managing our own sparks like Mother Nature does, we’d see fewer fires,” said Crouch.

Crouch said the local area is entering into its “core historically large fire season.”

The unexpected is what concerns fire managers now, said Crouch.

“It is the dry lightning events and the human events we can’t plan for,” said Crouch.

To find out more about area fire restrictions, go online to www.blm.gov/press-release/vale-blm-expanding-fire-restrictions-effective-july-24.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-235-1003.

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