July Aug, 2003







2003 Fire Season/Fire Prevention Guidelines for Loggers

Looking back, 2002 was a hellacious fire season in the Western U.S., in particular the Pacific Northwest. Close to 1 million acres of timber went up in smoke in Oregon alone — the worst fire season since 1987, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. The 500,000-acre Biscuit Fire in Southern Oregon and Northern California was the most massive, followed closely by the 467,000-acre Rodeo/Chediski fire in Arizona, and the 27,000-acre Timbered Rock blaze, also in Southern Oregon. Of course, there is no way of knowing if 2003 will see a replay of 2002. Early indications of a drought have been somewhat modified by sustained accumulations of late-spring snows, and even last year many climatologists were predicting a cyclical return to historically wetter and milder weather conditions. Another variable is the potential for late-season electrical storms, since lightning strikes typically start the majority of fires, particularly in backcountry. Unfortunately, most of the key underlying danger factors still exist in the Pacific Northwest. There is a significant increase in ground fuel loading due to insufficient thinning and passive fire-prevention programs, along with a dramatic change in forest densities and tree species diversity. Put it together and you’ve got a recipe for even more and bigger “monster” burns in the future. But there is good news. According to data collected by the ODF, for example, of the approximately 1,200 fires and 100,000 acres burned in 2002 on ODF-protected lands, only about 19 percent of the fires — and most importantly only about 3 percent of the acreage — were attributed to equipment use and operator fault associated with logging operations. Considering the potential for another ruinous fire season, and with the desire to try to minimize outbreaks and fire-related injuries as much as possible, here is a list of 16 fire-safety tips for Fire Season 2003. Some are taken from the Ten Standard Orders, originally developed in 1957 and equally valid today. Others come from the 18 “watch out” situations used by firefighters. Others are just plain common sense.

To Prevent Fire in the Bush:
• Make sure all operating machinery is provided with a recently-checked, properly rated, and easy to access fire extinguisher. On hot, dry days, chain saw operators should also carry a small hand extinguisher.
• Inspect all machinery at the end of each shift for debris that might have become lodged around the radiator, engine compartment, undercarriage, or any other area where heat can build up. Under hot and dry conditions, it is also useful to keep someone around to monitor the equipment for a 30-minute cool down period, just to be safe.
• Be mindful of spark danger when operating in areas with exposed rocks, particularly when working with a fellerbuncher. Visually inspect the job site when leaving the area each day to check for any possible signs of smoldering debris. • When doing a slashburn, take care to locate burn piles away from any structures or other combustible material and make sure they are free of dirt. Build a fire line around all piles to prevent spread. After burning, ensure that the fire is completely out before leaving the area unattended.

General Fire Safety:
• Ensure that all logging crew personnel who might also be called upon to fight a fire have received basic firefighting training as required by OSHA.
• Also according to OSHA, all logging crew personnel involved in firefighting must be provided with proper personal protective equipment, which includes nomex pants, long-sleeved shirt, leather boots with at least an 8- inch top, leather gloves, and a hard hat.
• Make sure that all fire equipment on-site is sufficient for the crew size and is in good repair, including axes, shovels, and pulaskis. Pumps and hoses in particular need to be regularly cleaned, checked for damage or deterioration, and repaired or replaced as needed before the fire season begins.
• Regularly check the industrial fire level and be prepared to accept and work with early shutdowns if called by the State Forester on account of high temperature, low humidity, or high wind conditions.
• Provide adequate clearings around yarder cable blocks, install spark arresters on chain saws, make sure all workers have appropriate communications gear and that the gear is in proper working order.

In Case of Fire:
• Immediately report it to the proper agency -- even if you are sure you have the fire under control -- so that backup help will be ready if it is needed.
• Keep all personnel informed of fire weather conditions and forecasts. • Know what the fire is doing at all times.
• Base all actions on current and expected behavior of the fire. • Identify escape routes and safety zones and make them known.
• Post lookouts when there is possible danger. Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively.

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 28, 2004